Don’t Scratch That Itch Until You Read This: A Guide to Dealing With Itching

Updated on May 7, 2023
Woman scratching an itch on her shoulder

If itching keeps you up at night, you’re not alone. Itching is a common problem caused by various factors, including skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, insect bites, allergies, dry skin, and certain medications.

Fortunately, there are ways to help manage your itch. For example, you can use moisturizers regularly to hydrate the skin and apply cool compresses or baths to soothe the skin. Additionally, avoiding hot showers and using mild soaps can also help reduce irritation.

Why does scratching feel good?

Have you ever noticed how scratching an itch can be oddly satisfying? Scientifically speaking, scratching might send low-level pain signals to the brain, but it also releases serotonin, a chemical that feels good. Serotonin resets the itch signal, preventing it from reaching the brain. However, in some cases, this could lead to a never-ending itch-scratch cycle, ultimately causing more harm than good.

Why Do We Get Itchy?

Have you ever felt an irresistible urge to scratch your skin? Itchiness can be an unpleasant sensation that distracts, irritates, and hinders sleep. To stop this maddening sensation, it’s important to understand why we get itchy in the first place.

A complex interplay between the skin, cells, and the nervous system causes itching. When cells in the skin are stimulated, various chemicals are released that send signals to the spine through nerves in the skin, eventually reaching the brain and causing us to feel itchy.

Dry skin is one of the most common causes of skin itchiness. It can cause microfractures within the skin’s barrier, leading to local inflammation, cell signaling, and the release of histamine and kinins, which result in redness, swelling, and nerve irritation that our body perceives as itchiness.

Other causes of skin itchiness include hives, irritants, or contact exposures on the skin that can cause skin irritation and swelling. Local release of irritating chemicals from cells such as eosinophils and basophils can irritate skin nerves and cause itchiness.

Knowing why our itchiness allows us to address the root causes and seek effective treatment, such as using moisturizers or avoiding dry or irritant exposures. Identifying the cause of the itch is important because it helps to prevent further skin damage due to excessive scratching.

Identifying The Root Causes of Itch That Need Medical Attention

Itching can be a minor inconvenience or a sign of a deeper problem, and it’s important to know when it’s time to see a doctor. If you’ve tried various remedies and the itching is getting worse or affecting your daily life, it’s time to seek medical attention.

When you visit your doctor, provide them with a detailed history of your condition, including information about any medical conditions, surgeries, medications, supplements, topical skin care products, occupational or recreational habits, travel history, or food allergies, as these are all possible causes of itch that need to be systematically eliminated to identify the root cause.

Why Is It So Hard To Resist Scratching An Itch?

An itch is an intensely irritating sensation that is difficult to ignore. Our natural instinct is to eliminate it, and scratching is a knee-jerk response for immediate relief, albeit temporary.

But this is only a short-term solution, and the itch-scratch cycle repeats itself, causing even more irritation. The truth is, scratching can make the itch worse and even damage the skin, causing further itching and making it harder to resist.

Thankfully, there are numerous ways to get relief without scratching, such as using moisturizers, cool baths, or over-the-counter anti-itch creams. You can get long-term relief by identifying the root cause of the itch and utilizing the right remedies.

How To Get Relief From Itching: Alternative Solutions To Stop The Itch

An itch can range from a minor annoyance to a major discomfort, and knowing how to stop scratching and prevent itching is key to maintaining healthy skin. Here are some general tips and guidelines to follow when experiencing an itch.

Don’t Scratch!

As tempting as it may be, scratching an itch often worsens the problem. Scratching can damage the skin, making it more prone to infection and perpetuating the itch-scratch cycle. Instead, focus on identifying the underlying cause of the itch and treat that directly to achieve long-term relief.


Dry skin is a common cause of itching, so it’s important to restore the skin barrier with therapeutic moisturizers. Selecting the right moisturizer can provide quick relief and prevent itching.

Find Good Anti-Itch Ingredients

When looking for relief, anti-itch creams can provide much-needed respite. Look for creams that contain ingredients like pramoxine, which helps to numb and soothe the skin; capsaicin, which has an anti-inflammatory effect; and menthol, which produces a cooling and soothing sensation on the skin.

However, as there is no one-size-fits-all solution to stopping an itch or preventing scratching, it’s important to seek medical attention to identify specific remedies for your unique situation.

Try A Topical Corticosteroid

If the skin is inflamed, a topical corticosteroid or calcineurin inhibitor may be necessary to reduce symptoms.

Use An Antihistamine

Antihistamines are a popular option to relieve itching related to allergies and other skin conditions like hives. Over-the-counter (OTC) oral antihistamines such as nondrowsy products like Allegra and Claritin can help. However, caution should be exercised with products like Benadryl or Chlor-Trimeton, as they can cause drowsiness.

Apply A Cold Pack

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), applying a cold cloth or ice pack to the itchy area for 10 minutes or taking an oatmeal bath can relieve itchy skin.

Keep Your Hands Busy

To prevent unconscious scratching, you can occupy your hands with activities such as knitting, stress balls, or fidget toys. This helps to avoid constant itching and scratching, ultimately causing more discomfort.

While these options can relieve itchy skin, seeking medical attention is important if the condition worsens or persists over time. The right treatment can prevent skin damage caused by excessive scratching and provide long-term relief.

The Takeaway: Seeking Medical Help When Necessary

Itchy skin and persistent scratching can be uncomfortable, but they’re not always a cause for concern. However, if you find home remedies or OTC products aren’t working or your itching is getting worse, seek medical help.

By consulting a doctor or a board-certified dermatologist, you can receive a proper diagnosis and find an effective treatment for your unique condition. With the right treatment, you can experience relief and prevent further skin damage caused by excessive scratching.

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.