What It Really Means When Your Whole Body Itches

When an itch strikes, the urge to scratch is irresistible. Unlike other areas of the body, our skin can feel both pain and itching sensations (via WebMD). When we scratch an itch, we're actually sending mild pain signals to the brain, redirecting its attention away from the itch and thereby easing the sensation. However, 1 in 5 people report that rather than easing the sensation, the act of scratching actually triggers another itch in a different spot. What does it mean if your entire body from head to toe won't stop itching?

The source of an itchy body may reside above or below the skin. External causes, such as bug bites, poison ivy, or dry skin in the wintertime, may cause you to feel itchy all over (via the Mayo Clinic). Similarly, itching can accompany an allergic reaction to a substance your whole body may have come in direct contact with, such as soap, chemicals, or wool clothing.

While there are certainly a number of outside factors that can prompt itching, what might be going on underneath the skin? Are there health conditions that can cause the whole body to itch?

Causes of itching may be internal or external

Hives is a health condition characterized by the emergence of red or skin-colored bumps on the surface of the skin that turn white with applied pressure (via American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology). Affecting nearly 20% of people, hives can appear, disappear, and reappear anywhere on the body. One of the main symptoms of hives is itchiness, which for some, may last for several minutes. For others, the condition is chronic and symptoms can continue for upwards of 6 weeks. Alternatively, if your itching is accompanied by skin inflammation, it could be a sign of psoriasis — a health condition in which the body's immune response causes an overproduction of skin cells, leading to itchy patches of skin (via WebMD).

However, an itchy body isn't always the result of a skin condition. Alternate health conditions, such as nerve damage, multiple sclerosis, and shingles, can all trigger nerve signals of itchiness (WebMD). Interestingly, itching is also frequently experienced by those who are pregnant as a result of fluctuating hormones and the stretching of skin that takes place during pregnancy (via the National Health Service). In rare cases, whole-body itching may be related to thyroid issues, anemia, diabetes, or liver or kidney disease, amongst other possible conditions (via the Mayo Clinic).

However, in some cases, your itching may not be due to a health condition at all, but rather a side effect of certain medications such as blood pressure medicines or ibuprofen (via WebMD).