Guide to Body Itch

overview

There are many causes of body itch, such as allergy and insects.  Even when insects aren't seen directly, many people blame insects for the problem. Before you blame bedbugs or some other cause for itch, it's important to understand all of the possibilities which include insects, medications, allergy and contaminants in the environment such as cleaning products, fibers in the air, dry air and plants. Insect based reactions occur when an insect injects salivary fluid into a bite.

causes of body itch

Everyone feels a skin itch now and then.  There are many causes of body itch including:

  • Insects:
    • bed bug itch
    • mosquito itch
    • flea itch
    • lice itch
    • mites itch (scabies itch)
    • chiggers itch
  • Personal products such as soaps and creams
  • Elements in the environment such as pollution, chemicals and plants
    • Itch from paper, carpet and insulation fibers<;li>
    • Dry air itch and fume itch
    • Poison ivy itch, poison oak itch, poison sumac itch
  • Health
    • age, sun and excessive bathing

Insects

common biting index - illustrations - 390px x 345pxCommon Biting Insects - (a) flea, (b) louse, (c) bird mite, (d) chigger, (e) scabies mite

There are several kinds of insects that can cause skin itch.  These include fleas, lice, bird mites, chiggers, scabies mites and bedbugs.  These insects cause itch, but are so small that they sometimes aren't suspected as being the cause.

Fleas

The most common source of skin insect bites are fleas.  They can be seen with the naked eye. They have a red/brown appearance and are 1/8" in length.  They will jump when disturbed. Fleas can get into the home from a dog or cat, or from vermin such as mice and rats.

flea picture - example 1 - 155px x 96pxFlea Picture

Fleas tend to bite humans in the ankle area.  Bites result in small raised areas or welts, that are slightly raised.  Skin itch is intense. Bites are small and red.  People that are highly sensitized can get a severe generalized rash.

Flea skin reactions are often delayed by 5 to 30 minutes after being bitten.  In individuals that are highly sensitive to the bites, skin reactions that are noticeable could result after 12 to 24 hours.  Children often see hives on their legs (called urticaria).

To rid a home of fleas, it needs to be thoroughly vacuumed, and then gone over with a disinfectant formulated to kill parasites such as Benzarid.

Flea Bites on LegsFlea Bites on Legs

Lice

Lice cause an intense skin itch and irritated skin. The lice inhabit the hair and other areas of the body with hair. They can be seen up close with the first sign of a problem being the eggs that are found at the base of hair follicles. The insects are gray/white in color. They are usually not noticed when an infestation first occurs, but scalp itch and skin lesions will eventually become noticeable.  Itching can lead to infection.

Head lice are acquired from other infested individuals. Lice can only live on humans, so unlike fleas, it is not necessary to clean the home as well as treat the lice. 

Treatment for head lice involves the use of a kit that contains products to kill any lice that are in the hair followed by the use of a lice repellent to keep lice away.

Louse picture - example 1Louse
Louse egg pictureLouse Egg

Mites

Mites usually get into the home via birds nests (called bird mites). or from a rats nest. They will appear like small tiny specks in motion. There are mites that cannot be seen such as a kind of mite the burrows into the skin, which are called scabies mites. They tend to burrow near the shoulder blades, at the bend of the knee or elbow or between each finger. They can also cause irritation and itch at the wrist,  armpit, penis, nipple, waist and buttocks, Mites can live for 1 to 2 months on a person.  They can only live 48 to 72 hours when off a person.

A scabies diagnosis is made on the basis of the appearance of the rash and if their are obvious mite burrows under the skin.  If you can, the scabies diagnosis should be confirmed by identifying an actual mite, mite eggs or scybala (feces). A Doctor will examine a skin scraping under a microscope by using a needle tip to look for the required mites, mite eggs or feces.  Not being able to find a mite, does not mean that there is a mite infestation, as there could be as few as 10 to 15 mites.

Skin irritation caused by mites will look like a rash. Treatment consists of using an over the counter topical such as Naturasil for Scabies.

Scabies Rash on Arm Picture, Picture Scabies MiteScabies Picture. Note the appearance of a burrowed mite under the skin as one of the causes of body itch

Chiggers

Chiggers (also called Harvest Mites): These insects cannot be seen with the naked eye. Chiggers will move along a persons clothes and then bite through the clothing when it is pulled tight to the skin. They will bite areas where clothes constrict against the skin. This includes areas such as the ankles, behind the knee and at the waist.

Chigger skin reactions are hard red welts. Intense itch sets in, in 1 to 2 days, so often, the skin reaction and itch is not connected to being outdoors 1 to 2 days earlier.

Bedbugs

Bed bug skin reactions vary with most people showing no reaction at all. This is why two people in the same bed can show different bed bug bite symptoms. Bed bugs are visible to the naked eye.

Bed bug bites can be individual or in groups. If bites are in a straight line, it could be because an arm or leg may have been leaning against a mattress seam that was hiding bed bugs. Bite reactions vary from small round raised bumps with clear centers to round larger wheals. Highly allergic individuals could develop blister reactions.

Bed bug itch relief is possible from regular itch creams sold in a pharmacy such as Aveeno, or you can buy product made specifically for bed bug itch such as Itch and Bite Relief.

Protecting yourself from bed bugs during sleep is difficult as there are no known repellents that can be applied to the skin.  The best bet is to inspect all mattresses for signs of bed bugs such as live insects or fecal remains (small brown spots near seams). When traveling, treating a mattress and luggage with a BedBug Travel Spray such as JTEaton can provide some level of protection.

Bed bug bites on arm - example 1Picture of Bed Bug Bites on Arm
Photo of Bed Bug Bite

Mosquitoes

Mosquito bites on lower legsExample of Mosquito Bites on Lower Legs

Mosquito bite reactions vary between individuals, with some people being more allergic than others. The majority of people will show a small skin reaction that includes skin swelling, red areas and irritated skin.  This is one of the common causes of body itch.

Bites usually appear in random areas or patterns and appear on exposed areas of skin.

Picure Mosquito bites on lower back - example 2Picture of Mosquito Bites on Back

According to the American Mosquito Control Association, DEET  (N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide) is the standard method for repelling mosquitoes. It was  developed by the USDA and is effective against mosquitoes, biting flies, chiggers, fleas, and ticks. No other repellents have shown the duration of protection and broad-spectrum effectiveness of DEET.  Recent products such as picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus are  close in effectiveness to DEET. In terms of protecting children, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that all family members over the age of two months of age can use DEET-based repellents with up to 30% concentration with confidence.

Mosquito itch can be helped by an over the counter insect itch remedy such as 

household items that cause skin itch

Any product that goes against the skin can potentially cause itch.  The skin reaction can look just like a skin reaction caused by an insect. Products that cause skin itch problems include:

  • Detergent
  • Cleaning fluids (ammonia)
  • Haircare Products
  • Printer Ink
  • Medications you are taking
  • Clothing

environmental causes

If no insects are present, and two people that live in the same area have red or irritated skin, then the cause is probably something in the environment such as the air. 

fibers

Carpet fibers that can cause skin itchSkin Itch Can Be Caused By Carpet and Insulation Fibers

 Fibers given off from papers, fabrics, insulation etc, are attracted to the skin by static electricity.  The combination of these fibers and static electricity create a sensation like an insect moving on the skin. 

Fabrics and Insulation: Skin irritants includes fibers from fabric and from insulation. These fibers sometimes create a sensation similar to an insect crawling on the skin. if this is the cause, itch will be all over the body, particularly on exposed areas of skin such as the arms, legs, head and neck.

Paper: Paper causes irritation primarily in an office environment where large amounts of paper are used or processed such as paper that is fed through a computer or where paper is constantly cut, ripped or torn such was with forms.

Carpets: Worn carpets can also give off fibers which cause irritation when coming in contact with the skin.  

Heating and Air Conditioning: If a heating or air conditioning system recently had work, insulation used around pipes and vents could also give off fibers which cause skin irritation and itch.

Air

Dry Air: When the air is dry, the skin has reduced levels of moisture.  This results in a condition called "winter itch.."  Dry skin is more sensitive, a problem that can be easily corrected with a moisturizer.

Skin Irritants in the Air: Offices have a problem with air pollution. Chemicals in the air can cause skin itch as well as headaches and other forms of irritation in the eyes and throat. Causes include cleaning products, fumes from floor coverings, paints, and adhesives.

Plants

Plants such as poison ivy, oak and sumac can cause an itchy skin rash.  The rash appears hours after being exposed to the plant or can appear in several days. You either had to come into contact with the plant or an object that came in contact with plant sap, such as camping gear, in order to be exposed. Urushiol oil is the compound that is the cause of body itch.

Treating this skin itch starts with cleaning the affected area with an anti-bacterial soap to remove any oil.  This goes for any clothes as well. Beyond skin itch, symptoms include redness, inflammation, skin tenderness, localized swelling, and skin areas which are warm to the touch.  A skin lesion might also form as well as papules (look like pimples) and blisters.  These might ooze and crust.

Poison Ivy is found east of the Rocky Mountains.  Poison Oak is found west of the Rockies. sumac is found in wetter areas in the Southeast.

Poison Ivy, Sumac and Oak treatment can be accomplished at home with over the counter products such as  Hylands or Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac.  This product in particular contains alpha-terpinene-4-ol, and cineol,(compounds found in the plant extracts cymbopogon citratus, avendula augustifolia, melaleuca alternifolia), and additional key analgesic plant extracts. These extracts are medically proven to be highly effective at soothing and quickly drying out the outbreak. 

Read on here more information on poison ivy symptoms.

health conditions and age

According to WebMD, Dry air, bathing, sun exposure and aging can all result in a loss of natural skin oils. This result sin dry skin which causes it to itch.  This can be prevented with the use of moisturizing lotion, sunscreen and gentle soaps such as Cetaphil.

Skin itch Treatment

To stop  causes of body itch from fabrics, try and avoid clothes made out of wool or acrylics.  

For causes of body itch for any reason such as  insect bites, fabric or other skin problems, the following products could provide itch relief including:

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What Other Handbook Visitors Have Said About Body Itch

Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...

Neither Bitten nor Delusional, Carpet Beetles and Bed Bugs 
For the last several months, I've had the "crawlies" and felt the (nearly always) "invisible bug bites" left by "microscopic mites" or "invisible bugs." …

Is This Morgellons Skin Disease 
I am 33 years old and work in the hospital. Since September 2010 I am dealing with strange parasites. I feel crawling sensation in my legs, spine and arms. …

Help Is The Itch On My Arms Bed Bugs Not rated yet
Reader Question: I have severe itching on both my arms mainly at night. Can feel like a pin prick bite followed by intense itching. Also happens during …

Skin Itches and I am the Only One Affected Not rated yet
Reader Question: It starts out as bites on the fore arms, which in turn itches, to the point that I am afraid that I will draw blood. The itch sensation …

Bed Bug Testimonial Not rated yet
I stayed at a hotel and woke around 3 am feeling like my body was on fire and itching. So, I went back to bed thinking the Benadryl would help. I woke …

Carpet Beetles, not Bed Bugs Not rated yet
I don't have bedbugs..I belive it is carpet beetles as I can feel static all the time, and when I wipe floor its black bugs sometimes with other colours. …

What Is This Bite From? Not rated yet
My boyfriend is a truck driver and was sleeping in his truck last night like always and woke up with 2 bites on the back of each thigh up near the crease …

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brochures

Each of these free brochures provide additional information on treating skin and body itch.

Insect and non-insect based causes of skin and body itch.
Available in a free Ebook

Scabies skin itch and itch relief.
Available in a free Ebook

Causes, symptoms and treatment of skin itch.
Available in a free Ebook

Ask a question or share your experience

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references

Centers for Disease Control

Bug Bites in Bed












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