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Pruritus

Definition

Pruritus is the medical term for itchiness. Elderly people often have localized or generalized pruritus. 

For some people the skin itch is merely a minor but frustrating problem. But for others, the urge to scratch long and hard can lead to other skin problems, from redness and irritation to large sores and infection. Suffering from pruritus can also mean lost sleep, which can lead in turn to irritability and slower mental functioning. 

There are many possible causes of pruritus. Dry skin or a rash are generally the first possibilities to consider, even if there is no obvious skin eruption. Because inflammatory responses can be muted in older people, the first manifestation of such disorders as eczema, allergic or contact dermatitis, bullous pemphigoid, urticaria, or a parasitic infection may be pruritus.    

Some prescription drugs can cause itchiness. They include:

  • opiates
  • phenothiazines
  • tolbutamide
  • erythromycin estolate
  • certain hormone therapies

A small percentage of people will actually have itchiness caused by a more serious disease. Systemic disorders causing itching can include:

  • liver disease, especially when there is obstruction of bile flow
  • kidney failure
  • lymphoma
  • leukemias, polycythemia, and other blood disorders,
  • iron deficiency anemia

Treatment

If the root cause of the pruritus is determined, treating that disorder will usually help relieve the itching.  

Sometimes, medications may also be needed simply to help you avoid scratching. These might include moisturizers or soothing preparations such as calamine lotion. Corticosteroid creams may be used, but only if the itching is only occurring in one area of the body. 

If your physician canít find the cause of your pruritus right away, he or she may have you undergo blood tests or other assessments, or visit a dermatologist or other specialist. 

 

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