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What are the Different Types of Itching Medicines?

Lainie Petersen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Itching medicines, sometimes called anti-itch medicines or, more scientifically, antipruritics, relieve itching on the skin or mucous membranes. Various itching medicines include antihistamines, both oral and topical, topical steroids, anesthetics, as well as various home remedies. In some cases, itching medicines are available in both prescription and non-prescription strength. Each type of itching medicine has its benefits and drawbacks, including side effects, and certain anti-itch medicines may be better suited to treating specific causes of itching.

While the causes of itching may be non-serious in nature, such as allergies, sensitivities, or insect bites, the usual reaction to itching is scratching. Scratching in moderation typically does no harm, but excessive scratching can damage the skin. This can cause scarring and leave the skin vulnerable to infection. The use of itching medicines can help prevent scarring and infection caused by reducing the itch along with the urge to scratch.

Antihistamines are sometimes used as anti-itch medicines and can be purchased over the counter, though prescription-strength antihistamines may be prescribed for more serious cases. Topical antihistamines are applied to the skin to reduce itching caused by an allergic reaction, and some people find relief by taking oral antihistamines. Not all antihistamines are effective for itching, however, so sufferers should consult with a doctor or pharmacist before using an oral antihistamine to treat skin itching. One drawback to oral antihistamines is that they can cause drowsiness.

Topical steroids, such as hydrocortisone, can reduce inflammation, pain, and itching. While some may find hydrocortisone to be a very effective itching medicine, the use of hydrocortisone or any other steroid contains the risk of potentially serious side effects. While topical or inhaled steroids are less risky to use than oral steroids, individuals who have an infection or are at risk of infection should be cautious about using hydrocortisone to treat skin conditions.

Other options for itching relief include topical anesthetics such as benzocaine, the use of counter irritants such as camphor or mint oil, as well as numerous home remedies. Topical anesthetics work by desensitizing the skin, while counter irritants cause inflammation that, paradoxically, can help reduce the experience of itching. Many people find the application of cold water or ice to the affected area to be quite soothing. The relief from the use of cold water or ice, however, usually dissipates once it is no longer in contact with the skin. Another home remedy alternative to itching medicines is oatmeal, which can be added to a cool bath or made into a poultice and applied to the itchy area.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Lainie Petersen
By Lainie Petersen , Former Writer
Lainie Petersen, a talented writer, copywriter, and content creator, brings her diverse skill set to her role as an editor. With a unique educational background, she crafts engaging content and hosts podcasts and radio shows, showcasing her versatility as a media and communication professional. Her ability to understand and connect with audiences makes her a valuable asset to any media organization.

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Lainie Petersen

Lainie Petersen

Former Writer

Lainie Petersen, a talented writer, copywriter, and content creator, brings her diverse skill set to her role as an...
Learn more
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