Itchy skin driving you nuts? You may have one of these conditions

If you’ve got an itch to scratch, working out what it is and how to fix it is half the battle. Here are a few causes of itchy skin.

Most of us have experienced the irritating discomfort of itchy skin from time to time.

Known medically as pruritis, it may come and go, affect a small part of our body, or be more widespread.

Causes of itchy skin are many and varied, and can include insect bites, internal diseases, nerve disorders or allergic reactions.

Here are some common triggers for itchy skin and ways to find relief.

Dry skin

Dry skin is one of the most common causes of itchiness.

“(It occurs when) grease glands in our skin that naturally moisturise it don’t work as well,” dermatologist Dr Warren Weightman says.

To help manage the problem, minimise use of soaps, as these can further dry the skin, and opt for soap-free cleansers, and choose thicker, greasier moisturisers that can help seal in moisture.


Hives or urticaria are red, raised bumps often triggered by an allergic reaction, medication or an infection.

Hives are rarely caused by a serious underlying problem and usually disappear within a few hours or days.

Treatment may include actions to relieve the discomfort, such as a cool bath or cold press, or over-the-counter antihistamine medication.


Many people have an underlying tendency for eczema says Dr Weightman, a Fellow of the Australasian College of Dermatologists.

“It’s common in children but most grow out of it, however it can present again as skin gets older and drier,” Dr Weightman says.

Eczema causes red, scaly patches on the skin – mostly on elbows and behind the knees – and it often goes hand in hand with hay fever or asthma.

“Some things make eczema worse, like chlorine in swimming pools and spas, and overheating,” Dr Weightman says.

Grass, dust mites, pollen, perfumes, soaps and woollen or synthetic fabrics can also aggravate eczema.

To manage eczema flare-ups, your GP or dermatologist may recommend regular moisturising with emollients and you may also be prescribed a anti-inflammatory treatment such as a topical steroid.


RACGP Dermatology chair Dr Jeremy Hudson says dry weather, air conditioning and heaters can also cause dry, itchy skin.

“Have cooler or shorter showers, gently pat skin dry with a towel and use a basic moisturiser to protect the skin during the day,” Dr Hudson recommends.


Another common cause of itchy skin, psoriasis is characterised by thick red, scaly patches — most often on the scalp, knees and elbows.

Research suggests psoriasis is caused by a problem with the immune system, which may be influenced by factors such as genetics and environmental triggers such as infections, stress, pregnancy and some medications, like beta-blockers and lithium.

Treatment can involve avoidance of potential triggers, as well as medications prescribed by a GP or dermatologist.

“Topical steroids are often the first line treatment,” Dr Weightman says.

“Cold tar creams are an old-style but effective treatment and ultraviolet light therapy may also bring relief.”

Fungal rashes

If your skin comes into contact with a harmful fungus, it may cause a rash to appear.

Common fungal rashes include tinea, Athlete’s foot, jock itch, scabies and ringworm.

Fungal rashes can be managed by taking general measures such as cleaning the potential exposure sites (such as bathrooms, floors), washing any potentially infected towels, clothing or footwear in temperatures of at least 60C, and using topical or oral antifungal medication to control the outbreak.

Written by Sarah Marinos.