May 01, 2019

Persistent itching

Seek relief promptly

The itch sensation is extremely common, and usually if you give it a quick scratch or rub — or simply ignore it — the itch goes away. However, itching can commonly persist for days or weeks in older adults.

Severe or persistent itching can be torturous, potentially leading to insomnia, anxiety, depression and loss of quality of life. For those reasons alone, seeking care is important. In addition, ongoing scratching can itself cause itch intensification, a process known as the itch-scratch cycle. Scratching the same area over and over for a prolonged period of time causes the skin to become thick and leathery in response. In this condition, known as lichen simplex chronicus, the itch often becomes more difficult to treat.

Many causes

There are hundreds of possible causes of persistent itching. A thorough approach is often needed to find a cause — if one can be found — and in many people there may be more than one cause.

For a diagnosis, your doctor will look for clues such as the appearance of the skin or a rash on the itchy area. A rash may include redness, bumps, blisters, hives or scaling.

When a rash occurs with itching, it is not always easy to see or may come and go. Still, possible causes of itching with rash include:

  • Dry skin — This is the most common cause of itchy skin in older adults. Dry skin with an ashy appearance or small white flakes or scales...