There are many different possible causes of itching.
For example, itching can be a symptom of:
- a skin condition, such as eczema
- an allergy - for example, to nickel (a metal that is often used to make costume jewellery)
- insect bites or scabies (a contagious skin condition where tiny mites burrow into the skin)
- fungal infections, such as athlete's foot and female thrush or male thrush (a fungal infection that affects the male and female genitals)
- certain chronic (long-term) conditions, such as liver disease
- hormonal changes in the body, such as during the menopause (when a woman's periods stop, usually at around 52 years of age)
Each of these possible causes of itching is described in more detail below.
Skin conditions that can cause itching include:
- dry skin
- eczema - a chronic (long-term) condition where the skin is dry, red, flaky and itchy
- contact dermatitis - a condition where the skin becomes inflamed
- urticaria - also known as hives, welts or nettle rash, urticaria is triggered by an allergen, such as food or latex, or an irritant such as heat or exercise, and causes a raised, red itchy rash to develop
- lichen planus - an itchy, non-infectious rash of unknown cause
- psoriasis - a non-infectious skin condition that causes red, flaky, crusty patches of skin and silvery scales
- dandruff - a common, non-contagious skin condition that affects the scalp
- folliculitis - a skin condition that is caused by inflamed hair follicles
- prurigo - small blisters (fluid-filled swellings) that are very itchy
Allergies and skin reactions
Itching is sometimes caused by environmental factors, such as:
- dyes or coatings on fabrics
- contact with certain metals, such as nickel
- contact with the juices of certain plants or stinging plants
- an allergy to certain foods or types of medication (for example, aspirin and a group of medicines called opioids)
- prickly heat - an itchy rash that appears in hot, humid weather conditions
- sunburn - skin damage that is caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays
Parasites and insects
Itching can also be caused by the following pests:
- the scabies mite, which burrows into the skin and causes a skin condition called scabies
- head lice, pubic lice or body lice
- stinging insects, such as bees, wasps or hornets and insects that bite, such as midges, mosquitoes, fleas, bedbugs and ticks
Itching may also be a symptom of an infection, such as:
- chickenpox or another viral infection
- a fungal infection, such as athlete's foot, which causes itching in between the toes, jock itch which affects the groin, and ringworm, which is a contagious condition that causes a ring-like red rash to develop on the body
- a yeast infection, such as female thrush or male thrush, which can cause itching in and around the genitals
Fungal and yeast infections tend to cause itching in a specific area of the body. But in untreated cases, or cases that do not respond well to treatment, itching may become generalised.
Systemic conditions are conditions that affect the entire body. Sometimes, itching can be a symptom of systemic conditions, such as:
Pregnancy and the menopause
In women, itching can sometimes be caused by hormonal changes.
Itching often affects pregnant women and usually disappears after the birth. A number of conditions can develop during pregnancy and cause itchy skin. They include:
- pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP) - a common skin condition during pregnancy that causes itchy, red, raised bumps that appear on the thighs and abdomen (tummy)
- prurigo gestationis - a skin rash that appears as red, itchy dots and mainly affects the arms, legs and torso
- obstetric cholestasis - a rare disorder that affects the liver during pregnancy and causes itching of the skin without a skin rash
Eczema and psoriasis are also skin conditions that pregnant women may experience.
Seek advice from your midwife or GP if you have itching or any unusual skin rashes during your pregnancy.
Itching is also a common symptom of the menopause, which is where a woman's periods stop, at around 52 years of age, as a result of hormonal changes. Changes in the levels of hormones, such as oestrogen, that occur during the menopause are thought to be responsible for the itching.
See the Health A-Z topic about Menopause for more information.