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What is that itch? EDITED BY SALLY McLEAN; Scratching it might feel good for a short while but the best way to deal with an itch is to find out the cause and make it go away.

Byline: MICHELE O'CONNOR

THERE'S nothing quite like scratching an itch for pleasurable relief - even if it usually makes it worse. Here's our guide to what could be causing that annoying niggle and how to zap it.

ITCHY SCALP MOST LIKELY: DANDRUFF This common dry skin condition causes white or grey flakes of skin to appear on the scalp and in the hair, says Dr Ross Perry, GP and cosmetics doctor at Cosmedics Skin Clinics (cosmedics.co.uk). Try using an anti-dandruff shampoo.

COULD BE: HEAD LICE "If you have young children, there's a good chance this is the cause of family members scratching their heads," said Dr Perry. Comb hair with a detection comb, section by section, while it's wet and covered in conditioner to help the lice and their eggs (nits) slide out. Then apply an over-the-counter treatment.

Alternatively, it could be a fungal infection like ringworm or inflammation caused by dry skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. In this case, see your GP.

ITCHY EYES MOST LIKELY: AN ALLERGY "Allergic conjunctivitis is the most common cause of itchy eyes and normally affects both of them," said Dr Zubair Ahmed, founder of MedicSpot (medicspot.co.uk).

"It occurs when your body releases too much histamine in response to an otherwise harmless substance such as pollen or house dust. It is easily treated with antihistamine eyedrops."

COULD BE: CONJUNCTIVITIS Inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva - the thin layer of tissue that covers the front of the eye - can cause itchy, red and watery eyes, added Dr Ahmed. "Your eye may be itchy, gritty and red with a discharge which might make your eyelashes stick together.

"Cleaning the affected eye a few times a day with cooled boiled water and cotton wool normally helps resolve symptoms with no medical treatment needed."

Alternatively, the problem could be blepharitis. "This is an inflammation, often due to an infection, that leads to swelling, burning and itching of the eyelids," said Dr Ahmed. "This can become a chronic condition so you may need antibiotics."

ITCHY HANDS AND FINGERS MOST LIKELY: CONTACT DERMATITIS "This is a type of eczema caused by excessive hand-washing, housework or chemicals," said Dr Clare Morrison, GP at online doctor and pharmacy, MedExpress (medexpress.co.uk).

"Itching is accompanied by redness, cracks and, sometimes, blisters. It's common in those who get their hands wet frequently, such as hairdressers, nurses and cleaners."

If it's not possible to avoid the offending trigger, wear rubber gloves with thin cotton gloves inside, she advises, as rubber gloves alone can lead to sweating, which may aggravate the problem further.

"Fragrance-free emollients (moisturisers) can help and if all else fails use a gentle steroid cream for no longer than a week at a time."

COULD BE: SCABIES This is a highly contagious skin condition caused when tiny mites (Sarcoptes scabiei) burrow into your skin. It's spread by skin-to-skin contact or by sharing infected clothing or towels. See a pharmacist for over-the-counter creams and ointments, and wash bed linen, towels and nightwear at a high temperature.

MENOPAUSE ITCHY FEET MOST LIKELY: ATHLETE'S FOOT This itchy fungal infection often occurs between the toes but can appear on any part of the foot, said podiatrist Emma Stevenson, of The College of Podiatry. The persistent flaking, red skin occurs if your feet are regularly in damp, warm conditions, so it's common in runners.

This itching," said omega-3 found in oily walnuts, flaxseed oil. instead of hot bath to out the apply a "Try once-only anti-fungal remedies," she added. "And to prevent re-infection, wash your feet daily, and thoroughly dry the skin between the toes."

COULD BE: DIABETES Itching of the feet, legs or ankles is common in people with diabetes whose blood sugar levels are too high. See your GP.

ITCHY SKIN Also known as pruritus, this is an irritating and uncontrollable sensation that makes you want to scratch to relieve the feeling.

"The possible causes are varied and will depend upon whether itchiness is accompanied by a rash," said Dr Perry.

MOST LIKELY: ECZEMA "Longstanding chronic skin conditions that trigger itchiness include eczema, psoriasis and seborrhoeic dermatitis, and these account for around 80 per cent of cases," explained Dr Perry.

See your GP for an accurate diagnosis and use the prescribed moisturisers as instructed.

COULD BE: ACUTE (SHORT-TERM) CAUSE "Ask a pharmacist for advice on over-the-counter treatments," said Dr Perry, adding: "Causes of itchy skin with no rash could be due to food sensitivity or a reaction to medication, or a problem with the liver, gall bladder or thyroid.

"If the itching persists, see your GP for investigation."

ITCHING DURING PREGNANCY "THIS is very common in pregnancy, as hormonal changes make the skin more sensitive and the enlarging abdomen causes the skin to stretch and rub against clothing," explained Dr Morrison.

"Occasionally, itching can be a sign of a condition called obstetric cholestasis - particularly in the last trimester. This occurs when bile acids from the liver end up in the blood. As well as generalised itching, there will usually be other signs, such as pale stools, dark urine and jaundice. If this is suspected, your GP will monitor it with blood tests."

The condition disappears once the baby is born, so inducing labour early may be recommended.

ITCHING DURING MENOPAUSE "DURING the menopause, levels of the hormone oestrogen fall, causing the skin to produce less oil and lose elasticity. This can lead to itching," said Dr Morrison.

"Eat more omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish, and also walnuts, eggs and flaxseed oil. Shower instead of soaking in a hot bath to avoid drying out the skin, and apply a non-fragranced moisturiser."
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Dec 5, 2017
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