What are the aims of this leaflet?
This leaflet has been written to help you understand more about pruritus ani. It
will tell you what it is, what causes it, what can be done about it, and where
you can find out more about it.
What is pruritus ani?
‘Pruritus’ means itching. Pruritus ani is itching around the opening of the back
passage (the anus). It is a symptom with many causes, but sometimes no
obvious cause can be found. Pruritus ani is common and occurs more often in
men than women. It is seldom due to an underlying serious condition and
those who have pruritus ani are usually otherwise well.
What causes pruritus ani?
Pruritus ani has many possible causes so it is sensible to seek the advice of
your doctor about your own itching.
Some of the more common causes are:
Anal disease. The contents of the bowel contain digestive enzymes
that can irritate the skin and cause itching. Minor leakages of bowel
motions, and a failure to remove them completely from the skin around
the anus, can lead to pruritus ani. One contributory factor may be the
presence of piles (haemorrhoids), which are the result of back pressure
on the blood vessels of the anal area. Constipation (not opening the
bowels regularly) can make the piles and pruritus ani worse. Skin tags
in the anal area can also contribute to itching.
Skin irritation. The skin of the bottom is sensitive and can easily be
irritated by moist wipes, soaps, perfumes, antiseptics (for example,
Dettol). These make the skin sore and itchy and contribute to pruritus
Sweating. The skin around the back passage is often moist with
sweat. If long periods pass without ventilation to the area, for instance
if you sit down for a long time, the skin can be irritated further and
Is pruritus ani hereditary?
What are the symptoms of pruritus ani?
Itching is the main symptom, often occurring after the bowels have opened. It
may be bad enough to interfere with sleep. Sometimes the skin becomes sore
after scratching, making it uncomfortable to open your bowels.
What does pruritus ani look like?
The skin around the anus may look inflamed and thickened, and show scratch
marks. Small cracks may occur and these may feel painful and sensitive, and
How is pruritus ani diagnosed?
It is usually possible to make a diagnosis of pruritus ani by hearing the story
and examining the affected skin. Your doctor will want to find out why you
have pruritus ani, and may need to check you for threadworms, allergies etc.
The tests selected will depend on the clues offered by your story and the
examination of the skin in the area.
Can pruritus ani be cured?
There is no one simple treatment that will cure everyone who has pruritus ani
as it can have so many different causes. It is important to diagnose these
correctly, then the right treatment can be implemented.
How can pruritus ani be treated?
Your doctor may suggest a variety of
ways of helping your pruritus ani:
· A steroid ointment or cream applied every day to the area for a
short course may reduce the itching. It can be used intermittently
as and when needed.
· It is important to remove all irritants such as bowel motions or soap
from the skin creases. A cream, such as Diprobase cream, should be
used instead of soap for washing the area. This avoids the irritating
effect of soap and detergents. Cotton wool balls with warm water
are gentler than toilet paper and more effective in cleaning fissures
and creases. The area also should be rinsed thoroughly after you
have opened your bowels.
· If you have troublesome constipation, you should see your family
doctor for advice.
What can I do?
· You should avoid any of the things listed above that might be
contributing to your pruritus ani. If you notice that a particular food
makes the itching worse, avoid it.
· Scratch as little as possible, as scratching keeps the itch going.
· Open your bowels regularly. Try not to delay going to the toilet when
you have the urge to do so.
· Keep your stools soft so you do not have to strain to open your bowels.
Eat plenty of fruit, vegetables and other roughage, and drink plenty of
· The use of a bidet or a shower jet helps to remove particles of bowel
motion that have become trapped near the anus. Always dry the skin
gently, without rubbing it.
· Keep the area as well ventilated as possible. Clothing should be loose
and not made of synthetic materials. Avoid prolonged sitting.