What is itchy skin (pruritus)?

Itchy Skin (Pruritus)

What are over-the-counter medicines for itching?

If home treatment doesn't relieve the itching, you may want to try taking an over-the-counter medicine.

  • Try a nonprescription 1% hydrocortisone cream for small itchy areas.
    • Use only a tiny amount of cream on the face or genitals.
    • If itching is severe, your doctor may prescribe a stronger cream.
    Don't use the cream on children younger than age 2 unless your doctor tells you to. Don't use it in the rectal or vaginal area in children younger than age 12 unless your doctor tells you to.
  • Calamine lotion may help dry out itchy, oozing blisters.
  • Oral antihistamines may relieve the itching. Nondrowsy oral antihistamines include fexofenadine (Allegra) and loratadine (Claritin). Antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can make you feel sleepy and cause other side effects. They may not be safe for young children or for people who have certain health problems.
    • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • Avoid applying antihistamine, such as Benadryl cream, spray, or gel, or Caladryl lotion, to the skin. These products may further irritate your skin. Also, it is more difficult to control the dosage of medicine that is absorbed through the skin.

If the itching is severe and it interferes with sleep or other activities for more than 2 days, call your doctor to discuss your symptoms.

Relieving itching from a rash in a child

Try these tips to help relieve your child's itching from a rash.

  • Keep your child's fingernails clean and short.

    Encourage your child not to scratch. Cover your baby's hands with socks to help keep your baby from scratching.

  • Keep your child out of the sun and in a cool place.

    Heat makes itching worse.

  • Keep the itchy area cool and wet if your child is older than age 9 months.

    Put cloths soaked in ice water on the rash a few times a day. Too much wetting and drying will dry the skin, which can increase itching. Don't put cloths soaked in ice water on the skin of a baby younger than 9 months. It may cause the baby's body temperature to go down.

  • Add a handful of oatmeal (ground to a powder) to your child's bath.

    Or you can try an oatmeal bath product, such as Aveeno.

  • Dress your child in cotton clothing.

    Don't use wool and synthetic fabrics next to the skin.

  • Use gentle soaps on your child's skin.

    Examples of these soaps are Basis, Cetaphil, Dove, and Oil of Olay. Use as little soap as you can. Don't use deodorant soaps on your child.

  • Wash your child's clothes with a mild soap.

    Try using ones such as CheerFree or Ecover. Rinse twice to remove all traces of the soap. Don't use strong detergents.

  • Don't let the skin get too dry.

    Dry skin can make itching worse.

  • Try nonprescription medicines for itching.

    Carefully read and follow all label directions on the medicine bottle or box.

    • Try calamine lotion for a rash caused by contact dermatitis, such as poison ivy or poison oak rashes.
    • For severe itching, apply hydrocortisone cream 4 times a day until the itch is gone.
      Do not use the cream on children younger than age 2 unless your doctor tells you to do so. Do not use in the rectal or vaginal area on children younger than age 12 unless your doctor tells you to do so.
    • If itching affects your child's sleep, ask the doctor about giving your child an antihistamine that might reduce itching and make your child sleepy, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.

Using home treatment for itching

Home remedies may relieve itching.

  • Avoid further contact with whatever you suspect is causing the itching.
  • Keep the itchy area cool and wet.

    Apply a washcloth that has been soaked in ice water, or get in a cool tub or shower. But remember that repeated wetting and drying will actually dry your skin.

  • Avoid taking a hot shower or bath.

    Keep the water as cool as you can tolerate.

  • Add a handful of oatmeal (ground to a powder) to your bath.

    Or you can try an oatmeal bath product, such as Aveeno.

  • Apply a paste of baking soda mixed with water.

If any of these home remedies make the itching worse, stop using them.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.