Itches seem to happen at the most inopportune times, don’t they? And nobody really knows why spontaneous itches occur, says dermatologist Peter Vignjevic, MD. However, we do know why scratching relieves the sensation. “When we scratch, it stimulates sensory nerve endings, overpowering the input to our brain from the itch receptors or nerves in the skin, so the brain perceives the scratching and not the itch,” Vignjevic explains.
Persistent itchiness is most likely a sign that you’re suffering from dry or irritated skin. Avoid scratching yourself raw by applying moisturizer or a cold compress or by taking lukewarm baths to soothe the skin.
If you’re experiencing a whole-body itch that interferes with your sleep or persists for more than one week, it’s time to seek medical help, advises Dr. Vignjevic. Itching that’s accompanied by a fever, night sweats, weight-loss, swelling or jaundiced (yellow-tinged) skin should also be seen by a doctor immediately.