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Causes of Itchy Chest & its Treatment

Severe itching of a skin is quite a common problem that many people face especially during the summer season. This severe itchiness of the skin in medical terms is called as pruritus. It can affect any part of the body, including the chest. When this happens, it usually points to a variety of causes ranging from allergic reactions to something as serious as a renal or liver dysfunction. Depending on what exactly is causing the itchiness in the chest, it may either remain localized to the chest or may spread to the adjoining areas.[2]

In most cases, pruritus is followed by the development of a rash but there have been cases where the affected individual only has the itching sensation and there is no rash formation. It is vital that pruritus be treated effectively to prevent any complications related to constant scratching of the area. Constant scratching of an area of the body can cause conditions like impetigo. Pruritus in the elderly population in whom standard measures of treatment are not effective should be investigated for other medical conditions that can cause itching like cholestasis, uremia, or hyperthyroidism.[1]

In case if there are lesions present along with the itching sensation then a biopsy can also be done to identify the reason of the itchiness. Blood work to test for thyroid hormones, bilirubin, and alkaline phosphatase are also quite helpful in coming up with a definitive diagnosis. This article explains in detail the various causes of an Itchy Chest and different ways to manage this condition.[1]

Causes of Itchy Chest & Its Treatment

Causes of Itchy Chest & Its Treatment

Some of the potential causes for Itchy Chest include:

Contact Dermatitis. This is quite a common skin disorder which develops as a result of skin irritation. This is one of the causes for an itchy chest. In addition to the itchiness the affected individual will also observe a rash with swelling and erythema around the affected region. Some of the common triggers for contact dermatitis include chemicals present in clothing which may rub against the chest causing irritation of the skin.[2]

Sometimes, the detergent used for cleaning clothes may remain on the clothing and when this comes in contact with the skin, it can cause itchy chest. In some cases jewelry or long necklaces can irritate the skin around the chest area and cause contact dermatitis resulting in an itchy chest.[2]

Perfumes and deodorants also play a role in irritating the skin around the chest causing itchy chest. It is important for people with sensitive skin to identify what can trigger a contact dermatitis and avoids those substances. This condition is usually treated by steroid creams or topical antihistamines.[2]

Skin Dryness. Some people have fewer oil glands to the skin surface. This results in them having dry skin. An individual with a dry skin will be prone to itching sensation thus making it a common cause for itchy chest. Additionally, dry skin can result due to atmospheric changes such as being out in extremely cold weather. In some cases, using soaps made of excessive chemicals can also cause the skin to become dry resulting in itchiness.[2]

An individual with a naturally dry skin will have flaky skin surface. It will be easy for cracks to develop in the skin which in some cases may be extremely painful. It is important for people with dry skin to avoid persistent scratching as it will complicate the issues and may lead to skin infections. However, it can be easily treated by using moisturizers that are available in stores.[2]

Insect Bites. At times, certain insect bites also can cause itchy chest. In fact, it is one of the most common causes of an itchy chest. There are many times, especially when out camping in the woods many insects may bits without the individual even realizing.[2]

It is not until there is severe itching sensation along with development of erythematous rash that an individual may realize that he has had a bug bite. Itchy Chest due to bug bites usually occurs if the individual is sleeping without covering the chest.[2]

Shingles. This is a viral infection that usually is caused after an individual has been infected with the herpes zoster virus. It mainly affected people who have had a history of chickenpox caused by the same virus. The virus stays dormant once it infiltrates the body post the chickenpox infection but reactivates after some years to cause the symptoms of shingles.[2]

One of the presenting features of shingles is burning and a tingling sensation along with an itchy chest. The symptoms are experienced only one side of the body. About a week after the onset of shingles, there will be development of a red rash. This may be followed by pain in some areas of the body.[2]

Medication Side Effects. Certain medications have a side effect profile of an itchy chest. This is a totally benign side effect and is not a cause for worry for the patient. This in no way means that the patient needs to either stop the medication or seek an alternative. Antihypertensives and cholesterol medications top the list of medications that cause an Itchy Chest as a side effect.[2]

Sunburns. This is also quite a common cause for an individual to have an itchy chest. When an individual exposes the chest areas to the sun for long period of time such when relaxing at a beach on a sunny day they may get an Itchy Chest. Sunscreens or moisturizers can help in getting of an itchy chest caused due to sunburns.[2]

Renal Dysfunction. This is one of the more serious causes for an itchy chest. This in medical terms is called as uremic pruritus. The itching sensation normally occurs in the back, abdominal area, and the arms but sometimes the chest can also get affected causing the individual to have itchy chest. This itching sensation becomes severe if the dialysis gets delayed of the affected individual.[2]

Thyroid Dysfunction. If the thyroid gland starts producing either too less or too much of the thyroid hormone then it may also lead to itchy chest. In such cases however there is no rash formed. Additionally, the patient may also experience temperature sensitivity, skin dryness, and chronic fatigue. This however depends on whether the individual has hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.[2]

Breast Cancer. This is potentially the most serious cause of an itchy chest. Although rare, Breast Cancer can at times cause an itching sensation in the chest. This is usually seen in breast cancers that spread very quickly. In layman’s terms, the skin will feel like an orange peel around the breast region. If a female observes this, then a consultation with a physician is an absolute necessity. In some cases, there is no cause for an itchy chest. This is seen commonly in the elderly population. This has been stated by the British Association of Dermatologists.[2]

Coming to the treatments of itchy chest, it normally depends on the underlying cause. If an allergic reaction is suspected to be the cause of itchy chest then prescribing antihistamine is the most preferred treatment. Benadryl is the most common antihistamine which has been quite effective in treating allergic skin reactions. One of the side effects of Benadryl is drowsiness and hence if an individual takes this medication then he or she should not drive or operate a heavy machinery to prevent any accidents. Generally, this medication is taken at night.[2]

If hives is believed to be the cause of an itchy chest then medication like Zyrtec is believed to be quite effective. If medication side effect is thought to be the cause of itchy chest then a consultation with the physician is recommended. Generally, this side effect stops after a few days. However, if it does not then a change of medication may be required. For skin disorders causing itchy chest, topical ointments are available in the stores which are quite effective.[2]

There are also certain steps that can be followed at home to prevent itchy chest. These include bathing for not more than 15 minutes in lukewarm water unless it is extremely cold outside. It is also a good practice to use soaps and detergents that do not have any harsh chemicals or fragrances. Using cosmetic products that are good for people with sensitive skin are also quite beneficial in preventing itchy chest. It is best to avoid lotions that dry up quickly, skin irritants, and avoid scratching the skin.[2]

It is mandatory for an individual to see a physician if any renal or liver issue is believed to be the cause of itchy chest. If the skin around the chest looks like an orange peel then also a visit to the physician is required. In case if there is sudden erythema and inflammation of the skin then it may suggest a severe reaction which needs to be checked by a physician. If chest itchiness is accompanied by unintentional weight loss or weight gain then also it is mandatory to consult with a physician to rule out any serious issue.[2]

In conclusion, itchy chest in majority of the cases is not a cause for concern. It is usually caused due to chemicals in the clothing, bug bites, or using deodorants that have harsh chemicals in them. If these can be avoided then an individual can get rid of itchy chest. In case, if avoiding these substances do not improve the symptoms, then a consultation with a physician is warranted as it may be a sign of an underlying medical condition that requires medical attention like a kidney or a liver disorder, or in some rare cases breast cancer.[2]

A thorough investigation should be done especially in the elderly population since they are at most risk for developing conditions that are potentially serious. This may include thyroid abnormalities or Hodgkin lymphoma which have itchy chest as a symptom and require immediate medical attention.[2]


Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:May 9, 2022

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