Pruritis / Persistent Itch

Pruritis is commonly known as itch. It produces a sensation of discomfort and a desire to rub or scratch to ease it. Incessant scratching to relieve the itchy sensation can cause significant damage to the skin, which can leave permanent scars.

It is very common and can occur to any part of the body, although varies greatly in severity. The way it presents can also differ substantially, as it is closely liked to the cause.


Pruritis is a widespread condition that can occur due to various different causes:

  • Skin conditions such as dermatitis, eczema, tinea, scabies, headlice, psoriasis and sunburn can involve symptoms of itch. When mild, the itching may be the only noticeable symptom, although other additional symptoms, such as a rash or redness, usually occur with more severe cases.
  • Health conditions may have the potential to lead to pruritis, including conditions of renal failure, diabetes, anaemia and thyroid imbalances.
  • Medications such as opioid drugs and aspirin have been associated with causing itch.
  • Exposure to skin irritants and allergens can cause pyruritic skin, as well as contact with water.
  • Homornes can also cause symptoms. Some preganant women experience itch related to pregnancy hormones during late pregnancy.
  • Idiopathic causes, when there is no identifiable cause, are also common, effecting up to half of all patients that present with itching.


The cause of pruritis is essential to consider and, where possible, it should be identified and addressed to ease symptoms. Treating the cause often successfully manages itch symptoms and resolves the need for further treatment.

The use of emollients to help ease dry and itchy skin is often useful, in addition to wet dressings to calm the skin and to cooling agents such as phenol and menthol. These non-pharmacological methods are usually sufficient to compose people who suffer from the condition during daytime activities.

At nighttime, sleep can be inhibited for individuals with a severe case of pruritis. In this instance, some medications may be of benefit to aid sleep, including sedating antihistamines and some traditional antidepressants, such as doxepin and amitriptyline. These should not, however, be used as a standard approach during the day.

We Are Itching to Tell You About "Pruritus" - University of California Television (UCTV)

Dr. Timothy G. Berger, UCSF Clinical Professor of Dermatology and Dr. Martin Steinhoff, UCSF Professor of Dermatology and Surgery, explore the sensation that induces the desire to itch and possible remedies. From mild to disabling pruritus can be associated with a number of disorders, including dry skin, skin disease, pregnancy, and rarely, cancer. Series: "UCSF Osher Mini Medical School for the Public" [7/2012] [Health and Medicine] [Show ID: 23810]


Further Reading

Last Updated: Jun 26, 2019

Yolanda Smith

Written by

Yolanda Smith

Yolanda graduated with a Bachelor of Pharmacy at the University of South Australia and has experience working in both Australia and Italy. She is passionate about how medicine, diet and lifestyle affect our health and enjoys helping people understand this. In her spare time she loves to explore the world and learn about new cultures and languages.


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