It's normal to worry if you notice your child is obsessively scratching her skin, especially if she is too young to communicate the level of her discomfort. Obsessive scratching can indicate a wide variety of problems -- both physical and psychological. If the cause isn't immediately obvious -- a change in laundry detergent, for example, or a mosquito bite -- visit a doctor before you attempt to treat your child's scratching at home.
When you see your child constantly scratching his skin, it's best to rule out any physical problems first. The most common causes of itchy skin in children, according to the BC Medical Journal, include scabies, eczema, insect bites, molluscum contagiosum (a common skin virus) and urticaria (hives). Visit your pediatrician or a dermatologist to determine if your child is suffering from an underlying skin condition or is reacting to something in his environment.
Dry Winter Skin and Home Treatment
If a change in seasons is causing your child to have dry, itchy skin, it's relatively simple to treat at home. First, make sure any products you purchase are designed for children -- and use the proper amount of lotion or moisturizer for your child's age. Rich ointments like petroleum jelly will be most effective at locking in moisture. Because scratching can make your child itch more, trim her nails to minimize damage. If itching is keeping your child up at night, WebMD recommends gently massaging your child's face or body to distract her from the itch and lull her to sleep.
Underlying Psychological Disorders
Obsessive scratching or picking at the skin can also be a sign of a psychological disorder. Dermatillomania is a psychological disorder that causes a person to scratch and pick at the skin, often subconsciously. According to BrainPhysics.com, although it is sometimes associated with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), dermatillomania can exist as a condition by itself. In rare instances, obsessive skin scratching can be a sign of a psychotic disorder. According to WebMD, feeling sensations like itching on one's skin when nothing is there may be a symptom of schizophrenia or a mood disorder.
When to See a Doctor
If you've looked for an immediate cause of the itching and can't find one, it's time to see a doctor. Also, if there's a new or worsening rash, lesion, or if your child's scratching is interfering with daily life, seek professional help. Sometimes, a prescription medication or behavioral treatment is the only way to treat a serious condition.