03/12/2018 11:51 EDT

Itchy Skin: How To Prevent And Treat Your Dry, Cracked Skin

You do NOT want it to lead to an infection.

Dry, cracked, skin is uncomfortable at best, and downright painful at worst.

And in the Canadian winter, when the air can be cold and dry, symptoms of dry skin are exasperated, leaving you with majorly itchy skin.

We would do this every day if we could, but the point is, we don't want to.

According to the Mayo Clinic, dry skin is the main culprit of itchy skin, and as you get older, guess what, your skin dries out. That's why it's so important to have a regular skincare regimen that involves moisturizing your face and body every day.

And if you don't take care of your skin, that itchiness can develop into red or rough skin, bumps, blisters, and even bleeding, which can also cause infections.

As HuffPost Canada previously reported, a recent study gave further insight as to why we experience dry skin during the winter. "The skin barrier is affected by climatic and seasonal changes. Both children and adults suffer from red cheeks in the winter in northern latitudes and some may even develop more permanent skin conditions such as atopic eczema and rosacea," senior author Dr. Jacob Thyssen, of the University of Copenhagen, in Denmark, said in a press release.

What causes itchy skin?

While it's common for dry skin to be the main cause of itchy skin, especially in dry, cold weather, other possible causes include everything from internal illnesses (such as kidney or liver disease), and allergies, to skin rashes, notes Healthline, which lists a whopping 70 possible causes for itchy skin. Other skin conditions that can cause itchy skin include hives, psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis, and dermatographism.

The cause can also be as simple as a bug bite. But if you don't see any obvious reason for your itchy skin, and it continues to be an issue, it's best to see your doctor so they can take a further look.

What are the symptoms?

Sometimes you may not notice any symptoms on your skin that could cause itchiness, but often the itchiness accompanies symptoms such as redness, bumps or blisters, dry and/or cracked skin, or skin that has a leathery feel.

When should you see a doctor?

The Mayo Clinic recommends going to your physician or dermatologist if the itching lasts more than two weeks; is so severe that you find it hard to work and/or sleep; affects your whole body as opposed to one or a couple areas; appears suddenly and you can't find a reason for the itching; or isn't the only symptom, for example if you also find yourself very tired all the time, have a fever, or experience major changes to your bowel habits.

Can complications develop?

The main complication (and most serious one) that can arise if you continue to scratch your skin — with great intensity — is that an infection can develop, which can lead to hospitalization and possibly require antibiotics.

Other than that (which is scary enough), scratching skin over a long period of time can also lead to scarring and even skin injury.

How do you treat it?

Dermatologists recommend applying a cold, wet cloth or ice pack to the area that itches; taking an oatmeal bath, moisturizing your skin (which everyone should be doing anyway); and applying menthol or calamine to the affected area, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

However, sometimes medications are required. If that's the case, your doctor or dermatologist may recommend corticosteroid creams, calcineurin inhibitors, or even antidepressants to reduce itching.

How do you prevent it?

There are many ways to prevent itchy skin, and these can be dependent on the root cause of the condition. That being said, there are some easy, general guidelines that can help prevent itchiness from occurring, which will hopefully bring you and your skin much-needed relief.

Dermatologists at the American Academy of Dermatology recommend bathing in lukewarm water (say bye-bye to that scalding hot shower); using fragrance-free soap, lotion, and detergent; applying moisturizer to all areas of your skin after bathing (but before you towel off); wearing loose-fitting, cotton clothing; and avoiding extreme temperature changes.