Itching in the Elderly: Causes and Treatments

As you age, you’re more likely to take medications and suffer from health conditions, both of which contribute to problems like excessive itching, also known as pruritis. Like other common senior problems, including constipation, there can be serious and benign underlying causes.

It’s those causes that we’ll look at here, before highlighting some of the ways you can get relief. 

Allergic Reactions

You can be allergic to everything from soaps and detergents to fabrics and aerosols, all of which come into contact with your skin. That said, it doesn’t need to touch your skin to trigger an allergic reaction and cause excessive itching.

Pay more attention to the clothes you wear, the food you eat, and the cosmetics and sprays that you apply to your skin. It is a process of elimination—if you suspect something may be causing a problem, avoid it and see if the problem goes away. 

Eczema and Psoriasis

Over 3 million Americans suffer from eczema, a condition that causes the skin to become red, inflamed, and itchy. It is much more common in children and may be accompanied by co-morbid conditions like asthma.

Psoriasis is a condition whereby the skin cells multiply at a much faster rate, leading to bumpy and irritable red patches topped with white scales. It is just as prevalent as eczema and can be incredibly uncomfortable to live with.

Dry Skin

If your skin is dry and flaky, it may be itchy and uncomfortable. Although this condition can be present in several diseases, it’s more commonly the result of dehydration or living in a dry climate. If you’re in the house all day and have the central heating turned on 24/7, your skin may suffer.


In addition to eczema and psoriasis, a host of other conditions can cause itching, including neurodermatitis, chickenpox, and folliculitis. These will often present with other symptoms and can be dealt with by your doctor.


Scabies is a common parasite that causes pruritus. It produces a rash and tends to cause more problems in crevices and extremities, including under the arms, between the fingers, and on the wrists.

Scabies are mites that crawl over the skin and can burrow underneath, all while leaving fecal matter on the surface. It plays havoc with the nerves and can be very difficult to live with. It is transmitted through contact with humans and animals and is often initially contracted from people who live with unclean animals or in unsanitary conditions.

It may take several weeks for the symptoms to first appear, during which time a person is infectious. Many other parasites have the same effect, but in most instances, they will also cause visible rashes and marks on the skin.


Itching is one of the most common side effects in opioid and opiate drugs, including codeine, morphine, and oxycodone. These effects range from mild irritation to a serious and distracting problem. 

It’s triggered by an immune system response and is common in most users of these drugs. Some get intense itching with even the mildest doses and this lasts for several hours. Others 

feel a mild itch when taking higher doses.

Other drugs have the same effect, including medications used to treat high cholesterol, palpitations, high blood pressure, and depression.

How to Get Help with Itching in the Elderly

If you’re suffering from excessive and uncomfortable itching, you should first consult your doctor. They will determine if there is a serious underlying cause and discuss medications, including antihistamines and skin creams.

When there is no serious underlying cause, you can try the following:

  • Use moisturizing cream several times a day, preferably after a bath, shower, and whenever you use harsh chemicals or detergents.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Don’t rely on your thirst signals, as these fade with age.
  • Choose soaps and shower gels that are hydrating.
  • Use a humidifier if you suspect that dry air is the problem.

Should you Scratch an Itch?

Generally, as tempting as it can be, you should refrain from scratching an itch. In some instances, such as with opioid itches, it will provide some mild relief and the sensation will pass. However, with excessive itching, constantly feeding the desire may damage the skin, and with parasites, it may spread the infection.

Creams and other topical solutions provide some relief. You can even add some liquid solutions to your bathwater to help with parasites, eczema, psoriasis, and a host of other issues.