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What Are the Causes of Burning & Itching Skin?

author image Boyd Bergeson
Boyd Bergeson has been writing since 2000 and has contributed to published research with the National Institute of Health and The Indian Health Board. Bergeson is currently a mental health professional and has worked as a university instructor, senior medical research assistant, textbook editor, and bicycle shop owner. He has a Master of Science in sociology from Portland State University.
What Are the Causes of Burning & Itching Skin?
A young girl is applying cream to her itchy arm.


Itching is an unpleasant burning sensation in the skin. The reflexive response that follows is usually to scratch at the skin, which may temporarily or permanently alleviate the itch. Although not life threatening, severe and chronic itching can cause considerable distress and medical attention may be required to assess the cause and solution. In some cases, itching can be a symptom of a much more serious medical condition. In most cases, it is simply a mild skin irritation, requiring no further investigation. There are several causes of itching and the most common ones can be categorized into a few major groups. Itching and burning can occur anywhere on the body and specific itch locations can help determine the possible cause.

Dermatologic Causes

The most common causes of itching are dermatological. Dry skin is the most common cause of itching. Other dermatological causes include various types of dermatitis, which is an inflammation of the skin, commonly known as rash. Some rashes are from eczema, which form small itchy blisters on the skin, usually on the hands and feet. A contact rash, usually an allergic reaction, can also cause considerable itching. A contact rash can occur from contact with plants like poison ivy and poison oak, chemical dyes and synthetic fibers. Other dermatological causes of itching include psoriasis, sunburn, ingrown hairs, and dietary allergens such as gluten.

Infection and Infestation

Infection and infestation are also common causes of itching. One of the most common insect-related causes of itch is the mosquito bite. The itch that follows is caused by an internal release of histamine at the site of the bite. Other insect bites and bee and wasp stings can also cause considerable short-term itching. Other infections and infestations include bacterial infections such as impetigo, head lice, pubic lice and scabies. Fungal infections, such as ringworm and athlete's foot, can also cause significant irritation to the skin. Viral infections such as chicken pox and herpes can cause itching.

Medical Disorders

Several medical disorders can also cause itching. It can be symptom of a much more serious medical condition and it can act as a benchmark of the severity and stage of the condition. Kidney failure, excessive bile in the skin, Hodgkin's lymphoma, hyperthyroidism, certain types of cancer, iron deficiency and rapid weight loss may cause itching. In some neuropathic conditions, you may experience a pychogenic itch, in which case there is no internal or external element causing the sensation.

Other Causes

There are several other causes of itching. Medications such as opiates can cause a significant release of histamine into the skin. Anti-fungal medications, aspirin, B vitamins and food additives can also cause itching. Hormonal changes can cause itching, particularly during menopause. In addition, pregnant women in their third trimester may experience itching from bile secreting into the skin due to a blockage in the liver.

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