Five Important Causes of Persistent Itching

If you’re experiencing persistent itching of unknown cause, it may be time to visit your doctor. Persistent itching can sometimes be the first sign of a more serious condition.

Almost everyone has experienced an occasional attack of itching. Most itching is related to skin irritation from a variety of causes including exposure to environmental irritants such as direct sunlight, contact with allergens, or insect bites. In some cases, the urge to scratch is not so short term and itching becomes a persistent problem which can be difficult to diagnose. Occasionally, persistent itching can be a sign of serious health problem which means you should see your doctor if itching persists beyond several days with no apparent cause. At this point, blood tests may be required to rule out a more serious medical condition. Here are some causes of persistent itching that are sometimes overlooked:


If you’ve recently started a new medication and are experiencing persistent itching, it’ll be important to rule out a drug allergy. Medications should always be considered when itching develops or when a diffuse rash appears on the body for no obvious reason. If you develop drug related itching your doctor may give you antihistamines to offset the inflammation and, in more severe cases, steroids. Always bring along your medication list when you see your doctor about persistent itching.

Liver disease

Although this is an uncommon cause of persistent itching in a healthy person, liver disease can cause chronic skin irritation which may be due to build up of bile acids in the blood stream. To determine whether itching is caused by liver disease, your doctor will draw a blood test to check your liver enzyme levels. If you have a history of excessive alcohol use or yellowing of the skin, this makes the diagnosis more likely.

Anxiety and stress

A recent study published in the American Journal of Pathology showed that stress can bring on a skin inflammatory response that gives rise to persistent itching. Although stress can be a source for persistently itchy skin, other reasons for chronic itch should be ruled out before making the assumption that it’s due to stress.


There are a variety of reasons that diabetes can cause persistent itching. Itching may be caused by the metabolic changes associated with having the disease or can be due to the presence of a yeast infection which is more common in uncontrolled diabetics. Kidney disease, which can cause itching, is also more prevalent in diabetics. Occasionally, persistent itching can be the first sign of diabetes which is why it’s important to see your doctor when this symptom persists.


Although most cases of persistent itching are not due to cancer, this is a cause that’s often overlooked. The most likely cancers to cause generalized, persistent itching are those involving the lymphatic system, particularly Hodgkin’s disease. Even localized itching can sometimes be a sign of undiagnosed cancer which probably occurs due to the inflammatory response caused by the malignancy.

As you can see, chronic itching has a variety of causes, some of which can be serious. If persistent itching is a problem for you, be sure to schedule an appointment with your doctor to find out the cause.

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