Itch Management in the Elderly

Curr Probl Dermatol. 2016;50:192-201. doi: 10.1159/000446094. Epub 2016 Aug 23.


Itch is a common symptom in the elderly population over 65 years old, and is often a chronic condition lasting more than 6 weeks. As in all age groups, but especially in the elderly, there can be a significant effect on the general health status and quality of life, with impaired daily activities and lack of sleep, which can also lead in some cases to depression or anxiety. The cause of chronic itch in the elderly is often multifactorial due to physiological changes in the aging skin, including impaired skin barrier function, and also due to decline in immunological (immunosenescence), neurological, and psychological changes associated with age. Common causes of chronic pruritus in the aging skin include xerosis (dry skin), dermatological disorders (eczema, psoriasis, lichen planus), and systemic (renal, hepatic, endocrine), neurodegenerative, and psychological diseases. Comorbidities in the elderly population lead to polypharmacy, increasing the potential risk of drug side effects, which can result in causing or exacerbating itch in the elderly patient. It is essential to obtain a detailed history, including drugs, as well as a thorough clinical examination with appropriate subsequent investigations. Management of the elderly patient with chronic pruritus should include treatment with topical therapies such as emollients as well as other agents for symptomatic relief. Systemic therapies should be directed at any underlying cutaneous or systemic diseases. Often the cause of itch in the elderly cannot be found and some systemic treatments can be used for symptomatic control of the itch, including antihistamines, gabapentin, and selective antidepressants. A holistic approach needs to be taken on an individual basis to relieve chronic pruritus, as the management of itch in the elderly can be a challenge.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy
  • Administration, Cutaneous
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antipruritics / therapeutic use*
  • Cholestasis / complications
  • Cholestasis / diagnosis
  • Cholestasis / therapy
  • Emollients / therapeutic use
  • Hematologic Diseases / complications
  • Hematologic Diseases / diagnosis
  • Hematologic Diseases / therapy
  • Histamine Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Hypothyroidism / complications
  • Hypothyroidism / diagnosis
  • Hypothyroidism / drug therapy
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / complications
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / therapy
  • Neoplasms / complications
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Nervous System Diseases / complications
  • Nervous System Diseases / diagnosis
  • Nervous System Diseases / therapy
  • Pruritus / etiology
  • Pruritus / therapy*
  • Skin Aging*
  • Skin Care*
  • Skin Diseases / complications
  • Skin Diseases / diagnosis
  • Skin Diseases / therapy*
  • Ultraviolet Therapy


  • Anticonvulsants
  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Antipruritics
  • Emollients
  • Histamine Antagonists