Anal Itching: Causes , Treatment, Prevention
ust the words “anal itching” are enough to make you stir in your seat. Fortunately,
the solutions are simple—creams and soaks to ease the irritation, plus one rather
surprising compress and some new ways to cleanse and wipe. Take note of what
you eat too. Though it’s just passing through, food can influence how pretty you’re
sitting a few hours later.
What’s wrong (Causes )
This indelicate problem has a wide variety of causes. Itching can start because of
disregard for personal hygiene—or because you’re overzealous about it. But it
can also arise from food sensitivities, allergic reactions to soaps or toilet paper,
sweating caused by tight clothing or pantyhose, or hemorrhoids. Fungal
infections may also be a cause, particularly among people with diabetes. If you
have children in the house, don’t discount the notion that they—and you—may
have picked up a case of pinworms, especially if the itch worsens at night.
Try Instant Itch Busters
• If anal fissures (a tear or cut in the skin lining the anus) or hemorrhoids are
the problem, pick up a tube of hydrocortisone cream. It can stop the swelling—
the main source of discomfort—as well as the itching. (Of -limits . . . petroleumbased
products like Vaseline on the anal area. Petroleum holds in moisture, which
can encourage the growth of fungus or bacteria.)
• Benzocaine cream, a local anesthetic that numbs the skin, also works for
anal itching, as does the anti-itch medication Itch-X gel.
• In the bathtub, dissolve 3 or 4 tablespoons of baking soda in a few inches of
warm water. Have a seat for about 15 minutes. Baking soda can help soothe skin
• Witch hazel is a skin cleanser and can remove irritants that cause an itchy
bottom. More important, its astringent action can help reduce swelling
responsible for the itching. Soak a cotton pad, and apply it to the irritated area.
This may sting for a few minutes after application.
• Use a warm tea bag as an astringent compress to ease itching and swelling.
Just boil the tea bag as you would to make a cup of tea to release the chemicals in
the leaves, let it cool down to a comfortable temperature, then hold it against the
problem area for several minutes.
The Power of Prevention
• Wipe more than once to remove all traces of stool. To avoid irritating your
skin, choose the softest, least scratchy toilet paper (white, unscented) you can
afford. Wet it beforehand if that helps, and dry the area afterward.
• If overzealous wiping has irritated your bottom, toss the toilet paper and rely
instead on a baby’s best friend: moisturizing wipes.
• Keep your nether regions dry and sweat-free. Use a hair dryer set on low
for 30 seconds to dry your bottom. Then sprinkle the area generously with baby
powder or cornstarch. If you use baby powder, look for a brand that doesn’t
contain perfume, which causes skin irritation in some people.
• Choose roomy cotton underwear, which will keep your rectal area drier
than synthetic fabrics, and avoid tightfitting pantyhose.
• Pass up acidic foods, like citrus fruits. And stay away from spicy foods, like
hot sauce and hot peppers. Both can set you to scratching.
• The oils in coffee beans are irritants too. Limit yourself to one or two 6-
ounce cups of coffee a day, or forgo the java altogether, and see if the itch
• Use fragrance-free laundry detergent, fabric softeners, and soaps. Avoid
fragranced bath products too.
When the Itch Turns to Pain . . .
you may have anal fissures, which are tears in the delicate lining of the
anal canal. Fissures are usually caused by a rock-hard stool that rips and tears
at the anal canal. To help prevent new fissures, aim to get at least 30 grams
of fiber a day from fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. Also, drink six
to eight glasses of water each day. Water bulks up and softens the stool. If
your fissures don’t clear up within 4 to 8 weeks or if there’s any bleeding,
call your doctor.
Should I call the doctor?
If you notice blood or discharge, or feel a lump, your doctor will want to know.
Call, too, if you have diabetes or take prescription steroids, or if your children
are also complaining that their rectums itch.