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Can stress or anxiety cause itching?
January 8, 2015 Physical Health

itchingHi. It’s Jenny at AnxietyBoss.com. Our question today is from Daniel in Seattle. Can stress or anxiety cause itching?

Itchy skin or pruritus is an inflammatory reaction of the skin and can affect the entire body depending on its cause. Being itchy can indicate mild or severe conditions such as severe allergic reactions or infection. It’s the body’s defense mechanism that alerts your body to something which is harmful to it.Can stress or anxiety cause itching? Yes. A common cause of itching is psychological brought on by stress or other emotional problems. The skin is the largest organ on your body and anxiety attacks this organ with an irritating itch. Not only that, but stress can aggravate other skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis.

Stress also causes the body to produce hormones such as cortisol which cause the sebaceous glands to produce more oil making the skin more prone to problems. Stress hormones also stimulate the production of a blood protein which causes allergic reactions.

Having itchy skin which is red and inflamed causes emotional disturbances like social withdrawal and embarrassment. Some people even resort to staying off from work and they keep to themselves. This just adds more stress and a fresh outbreak of itchy skin.

Because of the link between stress and itching, learning to manage stress with the help of a clinical psychologist can be helpful. Sometimes the joint assistance of a dermatologist and psychologist can be hugely beneficial and hypnosis and stress management can help to control your stress.

Lotions and creams can help with an itch as well and this assists with reducing anxiety and stress. Remedies such as aloe vera, witch hazel and even cortisone help to relieve an itch. It’s a good idea to be checked by a doctor just to make sure that your itch isn’t from an illness or an insect bite.

photo credit: YIP: 03.18.09 via photopin (license)

"54" Comments
  1. I took chemo n r.adiation last yr last week radiation I started breaking out in a rash that was 10/2014 he we or 8/ 2015 I itch still. Cancer doc say they don’t no why I am. Emergency room say go see dermatologist. Easier said then done I dwell 130 miles from doctors I can go to. Imhaving side effects from treatments from last yr. Problem I didn’t have it prior to radiation I’m allergic to dyes etc I have 7 tatooeddots on me from radiation some say allergy to dye now latest thing others say syndrome one you wake up an just it. I can’t go on like this I have finger nails I scratch an then I start bleeding I’ve cut nails so I don’t tear my skin up bad on my back. I go to shands chemo doctor Sept I’ve got to find out why I it when before treatments I never did!

  2. I’m sorry to hear about your rash and itching. I agree with your doctor about seeing a dermatologist, as this may be a medical problem that is causing your itching. This article is for people who have itching from stress and anxiety, which are psychological/mental conditions.

  3. Since 2012, when my husband was laid off from a project, we endured almost two years of constant out-of-state interviews. He experienced rejection that deeply affected our moral. My itching began in the thigh. It seemed to had passed, which was a huge relief. But it returned in magnitude when I contracted non-specific hepatitis Nov. 2014 (Along with extremely painful localized “cramp-like feelings”, (the size of a half-dollar) all over my legs. Once definitively, my enzymes decreased to normal, the cramping immediately subsided. Total psycho-somatic.

    Currently, I’m experiencing excruciating itching sensations, which my husband objectively pointed out, may be due to anxiety.

    It’s completely unbearable. So much so, often I feel as if I want to rip my skin off. o.O Pretty extreme.

    It makes it difficult to sleep. The itches seem random, but also target specific zones, such as the traps, or tensor fascia area. Sometimes the itch seems to be on the skin, but sometimes it feels deep within the muscle, completely inaccessible. The skin itch travels, and is many times hard to pinpoint. Very frustrating.

    I take Mirtazepine for sleep. Since it is an antihistamine, should that help? Cortisone seems to help temporarily.

    Since this is an article about itch due to stress, are there options other than what I’ve been taking that might be as effective, but not an antihistamine? Chamomile doesn’t seem to work.

    No sleep. Unpredictable. Increases with anxiety, even if unaware of anxiety. Which methods could I use during extreme bouts of separation anxiety?

    Any thoughts? Professional opinion?

    • Dear Monisa,

      You may be experiencing what is called stress-induced itching, also known as adrenergic pruritis. Adrenaline that is produced from stress and anxiety can trigger stress-induced itching.

      Beta blockers, such as propranolol, can block the effects of excessive adrenaline, and hence reduce itching. You can also try natural supplements for anxiety, such as: https://www.kalmpro.com/exclusive/index.php.

      Other ways to reduce your itching are to reduce your stressors and learning how to cope with your anxiety.

      If you have extreme anxiety and want relief immediately, please click here: https://anxietyboss.com/immediate-anxiety-relief/.

      Please refer back to the rest of AnxietyBoss.com for more information on reducing your anxiety and stress-induced itching.

      Regards,
      Dr. Carlo

    • Please be very careful with cortisone use. It can lead to a syndrome called Red Skin Syndrome. Countless people are suffering from steroid overuse and doctors will not recognize the culprit.

      • Thank you for sharing the dangers of chronic steroid use. If anxiety is the culprit of your itching, then addressing the anxiety is your best option, rather than band-aid solutions such as cortisone.

  4. i have anxiety quiet lot of time,and feel tingling itch through my body mostly at night and hard to sleep i take xanax and sleep perfect to morning,it seems like anxiety related problem,what you think

    • Dear Brian,

      You may be experiencing adrenergic pruritis, or stress-induced itching. Benzodiazepines such as Xanax (alprazolam) can help to reduce anxiety, and if you have stress-induced itching, it can help that too. For more information on addressing anxiety, please see the rest of AnxietyBoss.com.

      Regards,
      Dr. Carlo

    • Yes me too I get at least 8 hours of sleep I have depression so I take fetzima and Xanax as needed. Recently it’s been so uncontrollably bad where I can’t make it through the work. I literally feel like I’m going to faint. Weakness and definetly heart palpitations that’s when I take Xanax. I get head itches badly along with back arms n legs. But it’s strange cause when the anxiety/ depression comes I’m happy and not thinking of anything bad Is anyone else like this?

      • Thank you for sharing Chelly. I hope you are able to find support and help with your anxiety, depression, and itching.

  5. My dad passed away in June. I was doing fine up till the first of November. I held it together for everyone else and I guess with it being the first year without my dad around for the holidays my stress levels are bad at night. That’s when I start itching. I live alone and I’ve never had a problem with that before now I’m hating it. I take medication to sleep and for stress but it just doesn’t seem to be working as well. I was on these medications before my dad passed. I’m also getting sick to my stomach at nights ontop of the itching. Help

    • Dear Sherry,

      I’m sorry to hear about your dad. Sounds like your itching and gastrointestinal problems may be related to stress and anxiety. Please see my recommendations above in my replies to others for information and help on dealing with stress and anxiety.

      Regards,
      Dr. Carlo

  6. Hi we have a todler who for some reason is stressed my wife and I are at witts end as to how we can help her reduce her scratching. To top it off she is highly allergic to alot of foods and has eczema We have tried western medication, have been on natural medication for over a year. We keep her as cool as possible we have sampled a product called deri-sal from a farmer who swears by the Product to aid in reducing the itch from eczema. I need to ask what can be recommended to reduce stress in a todler

    • Dr. Carlo Carandang, MD, Psychiatrist

      Dear Ross,

      I’m sorry to hear of your child’s suffering. However, I can’t give medical advise for your child…please follow-up with your child’s pediatrician.

  7. The cure for my itching which was caused by anxiety is Prozac. Finally itch-free. Thank the Lord.

    • Prozac worked for me for the itching but I felt like a zombie and wound up in the ER with my blood pressure out of control. I felt like passing out and I was not myself. I am on Kolonapin which is not helping. Going crazy wth this.

      • If prescription medications are not effective and/or causing side effects, then you may consider natural alternatives for anxiety, such as KalmPro.

    • Matthew, that’s great news that you found something to address your anxiety and itching. SSRIs, such as fluoxetine (Prozac), can be effective for anxiety and stress-induced itching, also known as adrenergic pruritis.

    • Hey Matthew, what strength mg. ? One daily? Did it make you sleepy or like you shouldn’t drive on it? Let me know. NThanks, Carmen😀

  8. I have really bad anxiety. At night when I get really tired I itch like crazy. I need help. :/

  9. Hi, for the last almost week I have been itchy to the point I’ve left scratches on mystery that raised off of my skin that burned. I haven’t changed my laundry soaps or used nothing new. There was a point where lotion would help with a ani itch cream but now the only thing that seems to help take most of the itchiness is benadryl. I know I’ve been under alif of streets for only being 25. My sister got diagnosed with stage 3-4 of cervical cancer, my mom’s health is not good either, then there’s work stress trying to handle two jobs plus a soon to be wedding, trying to maintain my relationship and figure out bills. Please help me, im just going insane from itching, lack of sleep caused by itching. Thanks tabby.

    • Dear Tabby,

      I would recommend that you follow-up with your doctor and get a referral to a dermatologist. If your doctors believe that you need help for anxiety that is exacerbating the itching, then please come back and take the anxiety test to get started https://anxietyboss.com/test/.

      Sincerely,
      Dr. Carlo

  10. It’s been happening for seven years and there no physical signs of it. I become extremely itchy when I walk for more than five minutes. My skin hurts really bad also. I don’t go out in fear of that; sometimes even for an entire week. This doesn’t happen to me when I wear a short skirt or not very tight shorts.
    I also have to say that I don’t have any problems with anxiety or stress. When I went to the doctor, she said that it was impossible for it to be an allergic reaction and it’s only stress. How can it be stress?Nowadays I only use the bus and never walk. Though, I have to say that exercising/running everyday was helpful a lot to me. Can someone be anxious without realizing?

  11. My problem is that whenever I go anywhere out in public say walmart or any other stores…within about 20 minutes I start itching on my arms and sides also my legs itch too. I’ve been dealing with this for the last few years. I been dealing with anxiety for the last ten years. I’m on antidepressants and it was helping for awhile. Now that itching has come back. Aby one have a any advice for me. Thanks.

  12. Dear, sir, i have been having a generalize itching for over one week now, but before then i had sex about 6 weeks ago with a condom but unfortunately, the condom busted which removed my penis immediately the went inside the toilet and wash my penis with soap and water and also urinated immediately. but since after then, my mind has not been at rest, i have been so worried about the condom bust…. But my body is so perfect like before, no flu like symptoms, no headache, no fever, my body is very okay but just itching all over… I don’t experience any rashes, and i don’t experience itching while sleeping, it always start when i wake up in the morning and having the fear of being hiv carrier due to the condom burst when i had sex 6 weeks ago… Please help me, am so worried about this itch

    • Please follow-up with your doctor, to determine any medical cause for the itching. If no medical cause is found, and your doctor believes it is stress- or anxiety-based, then please return to this site and take the anxiety test to get started: https://anxietyboss.com/test/

    • I just wondered what this ended up being? It sounds similar to an itch that I have which also presents without a rash and does not occur while sleeping. Extremely similar. I’d be grateful to hear.

  13. Hi, it’s been almost 10 days now that my skin itching started. I can’t find out the reason for that. But before that started I read n saw some criminal news and since then I m scared for the first time in my life. Also the same day I cleaned my sink with some acid without gloves. But I washed my hands with soap n lot of water.
    My upper back, Scalp, neck itch like crazy. Itching gets worst in the evening especially my palms and back side of palm itch badly in the evening (especially fingers) and same with legs.
    Is it stressed induced or something else? Plz help. I took benadryl for three days just at night. But tht didn’t really worked much.

    • I would recommend that you see your doctor for a medical evaluation. If your doctor does not find any medical reason for the itching, and if your doctor believes the itching is stress-induced, then consider taking the anxiety test (https://anxietyboss.com/test/) to determine your anxiety level, and to come up with an initial plan for addressing the stress-induced itching.

  14. Hi, forgot to mention that there are no red spots anywhere on skin but little red bumps on upper portion of my back. Skin gets red only when I scratch.
    Plz advice

  15. I have been stressed beyond measure. And I have been scratching my neck and chest for a couple of months and everytime I started I am hurting and the skin is burning. Everything that I use like ointment sets me on fire. What can I do? My dad passed away in November and relatives and friends are trying to figure out what to find to help. I take a shower and put on lotion thinking its dry skin it helps for a while but goes back to itching. HELP!!!!

    • First of all, please see your doctor to rule out any medical cause for your itching. If no medical cause is found, and it is stressed-induced, then it may be adrenergic pruritis, which is stress-induced itching. The way to reduce your stress is to either find better coping skills or to utilize relaxation strategies to calm your anxiety. If those measures do not work, then you may need assistance with anxiety supplements such as KalmPro.

  16. For the past couple months, I have had pretty intense, itching all over my head and body. I do not have rashes, red bumps, flakes, flea or mite issues. I have not changed any hygiene products and I keep myself clean. I will admit, my stress levels go up and down constantly due to taking care of my family ( I have 5 children and 3 out of my 5 have special needs), help my husband run our family business and recently, went back to school; taking online classes. My water intake has increased to what it should be and over the past week, have incorporated a more regulated exercise schedule as well. My diet is good, but my sleep is very poor. I used to take Hyland’s homeopathic calming tablets, but have not found them. Either way, I never had this kind of itching issue and need it to stop.

  17. Hi Dr. Carlo. I am 18 and have had hypochondria my whole life, I’ve feared cancer ever since I was 5. Cancer runs in my family but everyone in my family who has had cancer has also smoked cigarettes for a good part of their life. A few weeks ago I noticed a “lump” right above my adam’s apple but I believe its just my asymmetrical neck because it is “attached” to my thyroid cartilage and is just slightly different from the other side, it also isn’t tender or feels swollen or doesn’t feel like a lymph node or anything. And then I started to play basketball, and then I started to get bruises all over my body so then I started to fear that I have leukemia(because that’s just me, always thinking the worst). About a week ago I woke up in the morning with itching all over my body that was pretty intense but it went away after like 15 minutes, and this was before I had any idea that itching could be a medical issue. The other day I was on an anxiety forums and read that someone was being a hypochondriac over itching and because it could mean lymphoma. Ever since I read that, I’ve had itching on almost every square inch of my body. It can go away but then it can also come back, it’s not really an intense itch at all. The itch I can literally just touch the skin and it will soothe it, I don’t even have to scratch it. I really can’t tell if I am back into my vicious cancer cycle or if I am actually having a medical issue. Do you think this itching is caused from anxiety? I also was at the ER because of another cancer scare about 8 months ago, and they did every blood test possible then and it all came back fine. I am petrified that I go to the doctor and they do more blood work and it ends up that its not normal now and they tell me I have cancer. Although I do partly believe this itching is from anxiety, I really just can’t tell. The “what ifs” are taking over my thoughts over the last few days. The itching started 2 days ago after I read that article, but I don’t know if I just didn’t realize the itching before or if its anxiety related. Thanks.

    • Dear Matt, your anxiety may be in full force right now, and it may be preventing you from making important decisions and taking action. Please take the anxiety test, and this will tell you how much anxiety you have, and what steps you can take to decrease it. Once you get your anxiety under control, then you can see your doctor to evaluate for any medical causes of the itching. Even if you have a medical problem that is causing the itching, you still need to manage your anxiety and reduce your stress.

  18. I have anxiety since 9 years and taking citanew escitalopram ..in decmbr i reduced medicine from 10 mg to 5 mg ..now i have severe itching first time i experience this ..i became afraid and increase my medicine again 10 mg and now i feel ok…i ask u that i do well or not

    • I don’t understand your question. You ask if you do well or not? Please clarify your question. Sounds like you had itching when decreasing your escitalopram, then the itching went away when you increased it back to your usual dose. There is a correlation between stress/anxiety and itching, as detailed in the article. Why did you decrease your dose of the escitalopram? Please make sure to consult with your doctor before making changes to your prescription medications.

  19. Currently, I am 5 months pregnant. I have been suffering from migraines and dizziness to the point where I have been bed bound through the majority of my pregnancy. It has caused anxiety and depression issues and makes me fearful of the future. For the past three to four months I have not been able to sleep due to restlessness and my body itching. I don’t have any rashes or bumps and am fairly certain it’s due to stress.

    • Dear Dorinda,

      As your case is complicated by anxiety, depression, physical symptoms, and pregnancy, I would highly recommend that you see a psychiatrist, especially one who specializes in women’s health. You can find one at most university medical centers. In the meantime, consider taking the anxiety test on this website, to determine how much stress you have and what you can do to reduce your stress levels.

      Regards,
      Dr. Carlo

  20. I have had depression and anxiety for most of my life. Seemingly out of the blue my face and beck have started itching terribly. Do physical anxiety symptoms randomly change like that?

    • Yes, stress-induced itching (also called adrenergic pruritis) can appear seemingly out of the blue. But the underlying cause is stress and anxiety.

  21. I’m truly hoping that you’ll reply Dr. Carlo. I’ve had records of Atopic Dermatitis/Eczema in the past in my childhood and teens. I’m currently 21 now. Ever since I was around 15, I’ve been having itching episodes in the opening of my vagina. I thought it was some kind of embarrassing virus so I never really told anyone, but throughout the years it hasn’t gone away and I’ve noticed that each time there is an event of some sorts, it gets triggered. I just searched “anxiety itching” now because I have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression in the last couple of months. Should I bring this up to my psychiatrist and/or dermatologist? Is there a cure for this without having to go to a professional? Thank you!

    • You should tell your family doctor or gynecologist about this, so they can rule out medical causes. If there are no medical causes of the itching, then it could be anxiety-induced. If so, then the itching should subside with successful treatment of anxiety.

  22. Allen A Craig Jr.

    When ever i am stressed about something and then it is hot where ever i am i get this really bad itch across the upper part of my body. It also comes when i stress my muscles like lifting something heavy, and thats when it really starts to itch so bad that i need to stop. it helps when i go someplace cool but it takes a while for the itch to go away. i don’t know if it is linked with my polycystic kidney disease but i don’t know what to do or where to go about this problem…

    • If it is linked to stress, then stress reduction is in order. Take the anxiety test on this site to find out about your stress levels, and how to reduce them.

  23. I have recently, at 40 years old, had my life turn super stressful. My father is terminally ill, and dying in front of my eyes. I’m not making enough money to pay my bills, and there are a million other reasons my stress is at an all time high. I’ve noticed, in the past few months, that I have painful, ichy spots on my scalp, under my hair, that I tend to scratch while I’m sleeping, so they get inflamed and ooze and bleed. I have also noticed that most evenings, at almost EXACTLY the same time (between 9 – 9:30pm) my palms start to itch INSANELY!! There is no rash, and nothing actually brings it on, except the time, it seems. I run my hands under ice cold water until it hurts, and hold ice bags on my palms, in order to try to control the intense itching. Do you think this is anxiety related, too? I am currently trying to use some prn benzos for my anxiety, but they don’t control the itchy palms. It just seems so odd that they itch so badly, at the same time every evening, but from nothing in particular, and with no rash or bumps. I just don’t know what to do anymore. Thanks.

    • I’m sorry to hear of your suffering. Chronic stress can reduce your immune system and make you more at risk for infections and other medical illnesses. Please get a medical checkup from your doctor to make sure there is no medical illness causing your itching. If the doctor finds no physical cause, then anxiety and stress may be the culprit. Please take the anxiety test on AnxietyBoss.com to help you get started.

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