6 Reasons Why You Itch After Taking a Shower

Itching After Taking a Hot Shower

Portrait of woman wrapped in towel after a shower
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We’ve all experienced it. After taking a long, hot shower during the cold winter months, your skin gets a little itchy after drying off and getting dressed. For most of us, this symptom is mild, only lasts a few minutes, and is related to dry skin caused by cold, dry air and long, hot showers. But for some people, itching after taking a shower can be chronic, severe and even debilitating. There are a number of different conditions that can cause itching after exposure to hot showers – most of them are benign, while others can be dangerous.

There are a number of other conditions that can cause itching, but aren’t related to taking a hot shower. 

Xerosis

Dry skin plagues people of all ages, but is particularly common in older people. Dry, irritated, itchy skin characterizes a number of skin diseases that are collectively referred to as eczema. Xerosis, also known as the winter itch, occurs most often during the dry, cold winter months, as a result of repeated wetting and drying without the use of moisturizing. Symptoms include dry, itchy, flaky, red skin, with painful cracking on the hands and feet.

Learn about the soak and smear moisturizing technique, a dermatologist’s secret for the treatment of dry skin.

Polycythemia Vera

Polycythemia vera (PV) is a disease of the bone marrow in which there is an overproduction of red blood cells. People with PV have “thicker” blood as a result of this disease process, which can cause various symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, visual changes, chest pain, bleeding, blood clots, enlarged liver and spleen, and a “ruddy” complexion (redness of the face).

This condition can be ruled out by checking a simple blood count.

Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Hodgkin's Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymph nodes. People with this cancer have enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, groin, or within the chest. In addition to enlarged lymph nodes, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma may cause entire body symptoms including weight loss, fever, night sweats and itching.

Hodgkin's lymphoma can be screened for by performing x-rays to look for enlarged lymph nodes, or performing a biopsy on an enlarged lymph node.

Cholinergic Urticaria

Cholinergic urticaria is a form of hives that is caused by an increase in body temperature. Hives are caused by any increase in body temperature, such as hot showers, exercise, spicy foods, or being under too many covers in bed at night. Strong emotions may also cause hives to occur in people with cholinergic urticaria.

The hives in cholinergic urticaria are classically pinpoint in size, less than the size of a mosquito bite. These may group together, or coalesce, into larger hives over time. Occasionally, cholinergic urticaria can be associated with more severe symptoms, including asthma symptoms and low blood pressure.

Cholinergic urticaria, like most other forms of urticaria, can often be treated easily with oral antihistamines

Aquagenic Urticaria

Aquagenic urticaria is a very rare form of hives caused by water coming into contact with the skin.

Affected people will experience hives within a few minutes of exposure to water on the skin, regardless of the water temperature. Why this occurs isn't known, although some researchers think that water allows for a certain protein in the skin to be dissolved in the water, and that dissolved protein is then able to reach deeper layers in the skin where an allergic reaction will occur. The diagnosis of aquagenic urticaria involves simply the placement of a drop of room temperature water onto the skin and observing for the formation of a hive within a few minutes.

Aquagenic urticaria, like most other forms of urticaria, can often be treated easily with oral antihistamines

Idiopathic Aquagenic Pruritus

Idiopathic aquagenic pruritus (IAP) is a rare condition that causes itching without a rash after a person’s skin comes into contact with water. IAP is likely caused but activation of a person’s nervous system, with the release of various chemicals by nerves located within the skin after contact with water. The use of antihistamines seems to be helpful for some people, while a small study of 6 patients with IAP found treatment with a beta-blocker to be extremely helpful in treating symptoms. 

Any person with unexplained itching, especially after taking a hot shower, should see their doctor for a complete evaluation, given that some conditions causing this symptom can be dangerous and even life-threatening.

Sources:

Nosbaum A, et al. Treatment with Propranolol of 6 Patients with Idiopathic Aquagenic Pruritus. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2011;128:1113.

Dice, JP. Physical Urticaria. Immunol Allergy Clin N Am. 2004;24:225-246.

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