The tips below are mostly for the ordinary itches that can afflict us all. If itching is severe enough to disrupt your sleep or otherwise interfere with your life, or if you have a rash or other itchy skin condition, see a doctor. You may have an underlying disorder that can be treated or need prescription medication.
- For itches caused by dry skin: Use a daily moisturizer, which coats the skin and holds in moisture; stay away from high heat and hot water (take short, warm showers instead of soaking in hot baths); use mild, fragrance-free soap, or none. You can also try colloidal oatmeal in lukewarm bath water. Avoid skin products that contain alcohol, which is drying.
- For itches caused by insect bites or contact allergies: Over-the-counter topical anesthetics or anti-itch lotions may help—as may oral antihistamines if you have a hive-like reaction. You can also consider trying a cortisone cream, but over-the-counter strength (1%) is so mild it won’t likely work well for very intense reactions; a higher-potency prescription corticosteroid cream may be needed.
- For athlete’s foot or jock itch: Use antifungal creams. Practice good hygiene and avoid tight clothing or chafing underwear.
- For on-the-spot itch relief: Try a cold compress. Over-the-counter capsaicin (hot pepper) creams can alleviate some kinds of itching, but they can also irritate the skin.
This article first appeared in the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter.