Anal itching, otherwise known as Pruritus Ani, is a relatively benign condition but one that can cause a great deal of embarrassment. It can occur at almost any age and may include a burning sensation as well as an intense desire to scratch. It is not generally considered serious and usually corrects itself within a week of starting treatment. There is no cause for concern unless the symptoms persist for more than a week or if you experience bleeding from the rectum. In those cases, you should contact your doctor.

What causes this anal itching to occur?

Anal itching is usually an isolated skin complaint in otherwise healthy people, but in some it’s part of a disorder involving other areas of the skin. Whether pruritus ani is an isolated problem or part of another skin disorder, irritation from stools and from cleansing after bowel movements keeps the rash going. This is because the friction caused by these actions can harm sensitive skin, resulting in itching and burning sensations.

You may find that alcohol, coffee, tea and spicy foods make pruritus ani worse. These foods irritate the digestive tract and increase the number of stools or amount of mucus secreted from the rectum. Cutting back on foods that cause problems can help to ease symptoms more quickly.

The condition usually occurs in men. The reason is unknown. When it does occur in women, it is often connected to an underlying yeast infection.

Sometimes hemorrhoids will start off as anal itching. These engorged veins, located just under the surface of the skin near the opening of the rectum, occur as a result of straining during bowel movements. If you suspect hemorrhoids may be involved, it is important to be examined by a physician.

Another potential trigger is sexually transmitted disease or parasites. When anal itching is present in children, pinworms are often the cause. Pinworms can cause severe anal itching and can also infect adults in the household. One can see the worms by putting scotch tape over the area and then looking at the tape. This problem requires treatment by a physician.

How can pruritus ani be treated?

Treatment is intended to reduce irritation of the anal skin. The most important method of treatment involves careful, thorough, gentle cleansing after bowel movements. Moisten toilet paper with lukewarm water, as dry toilet paper doesn’t cleanse as well as wet and also irritates your skin. Never use soap on the anal area; cleansing with plain water, in either the shower or bathtub, will usually do the job.

Medications which have been successful for this condition include Lotrimin cream mixed with hydrocortisone 1% cream applied daily. Both of these are available over the counter at your local drug store. A mild alpha hydroxyacid applied each day can also relieve symptoms, as can applying plain Vaseline each day to the anal area.

Pruritus ani is frequently stubborn and may require months of local medication and gentle skin care. Some people need to continue the medication once or twice daily indefinitely since the itching returns whenever they stop.