Anal itching is often a very uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing condition. While some people might think of it as a simple annoyance, there can actually be some pretty serious underlying causes for this condition. If you find yourself suffering from anal itching, it’s important to understand what the potential causes are and when you need to see a doctor about the problem.
The medical term for anal itching is pruritus ani. This refers to a condition where an itching occurs around the anus, which is the canal that is the outlet for the rectum. The itch may occur in the anus, on the skin immediately surrounding the anus or both. Sometimes anal itching is mild, while others have anal itching that is severe and is accompanied by a strong urge to scratch. The itching may be accompanied by other symptoms, such as a burning feeling, soreness or pain.
Certain environmental factors may cause anal itching to become more intense. One example is moisture, which may occur when a person sweats or is in a humid environment. Some people find that the rubbing of their clothing in the affected area can make the itching worse, sometimes depending on the type of material the clothing is made from. Still others find that the pressure on the area that occurs while sitting intensifies the itching.
There are several possible causes for anal itching, including:
- Dry skin or skin disorders
- Excess moisture
- Excessive washing or scrubbing
- Anxiety or stress
- Fecal incontinence or frequent diarrhea
- Overuse of laxatives
- Chemical irritants from laundry soaps, douches, etc.
- Yeast infections
- Anal fissures, fistulas or abrasions
- Certain foods and beverages (spices, hot sauces, alcohol, etc.)
- Medications, including some antibiotics
- Infections, including sexually transmitted diseases
- Benign or cancerous anal tumors
In many cases, anal itching is mild and does not require medical treatment. In these situations, the itching usually clears up on its own after a few days. However, you should see a doctor if you find that your anal itching is severe. For example, if the itching sensation makes you unable to focus or you feel an irresistible urge to scratch, you may be experiencing severe anal itching. Even if you have only mild anal itching, you still need to see a doctor if the condition is persistent. If the anal itching continues for more than a few weeks, see a doctor regardless of how intense the itching may be.
Another situation that requires medical attention for anal itching is if you are bleeding from the rectum. This may be a sign that the itching is being caused by something serious or hazardous to your health, so it’s important to get medical attention as soon as possible. In cases where medical attention is necessary, treatment is geared towards finding and treating the underlying cause.
For the mild, non-persistent cases of anal itching, it is often possible to treat the condition at home. There are several options for at-home treatment of anal itching, including:
- Ointments: You can buy protective ointments that contain zinc oxide and apply them to the area to relieve the itching. Some name brands in this category include Balmex and Desitin.
- Over-the-counter creams: Buying cream products with hydrocortisone can reduce the inflammation and itching associated with this condition. Brands names in this category include Preparation H Anti-Itch Cream and Cortaid.
- Antihistamines: Taking antihistamines is sometimes helpful for relieving symptoms of anal itching, particularly when the symptoms are the worst at night. Talk to your doctor before using this treatment.
- Cleansing: Clean the affected area often, including in the morning, at night before going to sleep and right after bowel movements. Keeping the area clean may reduce the irritation causing the itching feeling. However, always clean the area gently with a wet washcloth, flushable bathroom wipes, moistened cotton balls or baby wipes.
- Drying: Always dry the area thoroughly after cleaning. Be gentle while drying to reduce irritation. Pat the area dry with a towel or toilet paper, or use a hair dryer. After drying, a piece of cotton gauze can be kept against the area to reduce moisture and keep the area dry.
- Wear loose clothing: Wearing tight clothing may intensify the itching feeling and cause moisture to build up in the affected area. Wearing loose clothing helps keep the area dry and reduces irritation. Change your underwear daily and use cotton garments when possible since they are more breathable than some others types of materials.
- Avoid irritants: Genital deodorants, laxatives, certain foods and even bubble baths can be irritants to the anal area, so avoid these products whenever possible.
- Change toilet paper: Look for toilet paper that is unbleached, unscented and has a soft texture. If you still find that the itching occurs, try switching to flushable bathroom wipes until the condition clears up.
- Avoid scratching: Scratching the affected area can often make the itching worse and can irritate the anus further.