There is no end to the amount of embarrassment gastrointestinal problems can cause. Of all these, a problem at the end of your GI tract is among the most annoying. Other digestive issues can cause smells and noises and rushes to the bathroom, but there is nothing quite like being stuck in public and needing to deal with an itchy anus. 

What is Anal Itching?

Itchy anus, also known as, pruritus ani, is a fairly common symptom that can be associated with a variety of conditions. In many cases, itching around the perianal area is not dangerous, and you can often treat your condition at home.  

Many different things can lead to itching around the anus. These causes can be as diverse as nothing more than the toilet paper you buy or as serious as rectal bleeding from a tumor in your gastrointestinal tract. 

Only rarely is anal itching a sign of a serious medical condition. Most cases of itchy anus can clear up on their own or with simple home remedies. If you begin seeing large amounts of blood in your stool or in the toilet after you have had a bowel movement, however, something serious could be going on and you should consider getting medical treatment immediately. 

What Causes an Itchy Anus?

The list of causes of anal itching is quite long. Thankfully, many of the common causes of itching around the anus are not dangerous, and can be prevented simply by avoiding certain irritants like spicy food or the wrong kind of toilet paper. It is also possible that improper wiping following a bowel movement can lead to itching.

Friction from wiping with rough toilet paper is enough to cause irritation to the skin in the anal area. Dyes and perfumes present in some toilet paper, soaps, or detergents are also potential sources of irritation if your body develops an allergic reaction to certain chemicals. Allergic dermatitis is the name given to this condition when the skin has become irritated by chemicals your body is reacting to. This can sometimes create additional discomfort if you are using cleansing wipes that contain alcohol, dyes, or perfumes that could be irritating the skin you are trying to care for. 

Various infections and medical conditions can also be at fault. These can vary from common yeast infections to sexually transmitted infections, bacterial infections, and even infections from various parasites such as pinworms.

Skin conditions can cause itching all over the body, and the anus is no exception. A form of eczema known as atopic dermatitis can lead to itching in the anal area, as can psoriasis. Skin tags, which can occur in various places on the body, can trap small quantities of stool or moisture that may produce anal itching. 

Hemorrhoids are usually associated with pain or a burning sensation around your anus, but unpleasant itching can also be a symptom. The swollen blood vessels known as hemorrhoids are not typically dangerous to your health, but they can cause significant discomfort.

Digging a little deeper into the list of problems, we move from skin conditions affecting the outside of your body to conditions inside you. Anal fissures, or small tears in the lining of the rectum and anus, can also lead to serious discomfort and itching. 

More serious medical conditions can also lead to a nasty itch in your shorts. Prolonged bouts of diarrhea can lead to irritation around the anus, partly because they result in the need to wipe more often. Though needing to wipe often is not a serious concern in and of itself, the loss of fluids and nutrients from loose stools can be a problem, especially for older Americans. Fecal incontinence is another potential source of irritation. In this case, your body is no longer able to maintain control over your bowel movements, which can lead to anal leakage and the skin irritation that comes with it. 

Real cause for concern begins to mount as we get to the end of the list of possible causes of anal irritation. Anal tumors, anal cancer, and serious gastrointestinal diseases including colon cancer could possibly result in rectal bleeding and irritation of the perianal area. These conditions are very serious, as advanced cancers in the gastrointestinal tract can prove lethal. With few other symptoms, colon or rectal cancer can often reach a late stage without being diagnosed until blood begins appearing in your stool. 

What Foods Cause Itchy Anus?

Lifestyle and disease factors can possibly result in itching around your anus, but it is possible that the food you eat could contribute as well. Anyone who has eaten too much hot salsa may know the unique pain of a warm reminder the next day after a bowel movement. The same peppers that make spicy food irresistible to eat can cause discomfort and irritation to the skin around your anus. 

Too much spicy food is only one potential dietary cause of anal itchiness. Citrus fruits, tomatoes, caffeinated drinks, dairy products, and even chocolate have been identified as potential irritants. 

Not everyone who is scratching at their shorts is going to have to give up their beloved chocolate bar or much-loved caffeine jolt, but it is possible that you may need to modify your diet if you have a condition such as inflammatory bowel disease or Crohn's disease.  

How Do I Care For an Itchy Anus?

An itchy bottom is something you certainly don't want to talk about, and some people may be hesitant to practice good self care of their backsides. There is no reason to be hesitant, though, as simple home remedies can often clear up the underlying cause of your anal itching.

The first thing to do is ensure you are keeping the area around your anus free of excess moisture and other potential irritants. Cleaning the area with warm water and a clean washcloth when you bathe is a start. Ensuring you are keeping the area around your anus dry is the next step. Wearing loose, breathable cotton underwear can help ensure excess moisture does not build up on irritated skin.

Over-the-counter medications are available to help relieve the itching and burning associated with hemorrhoids and other conditions. These creams are applied to the affected area and contain a variety of active ingredients, including hydrocortisone, zinc-oxide, or capsaicin cream. 

If your anal itching proves to be persistent and hard to get rid of, you may need to seek medical advice. Depending on the underlying cause of your condition, your doctor may prescribe an antifungal or antibiotic cream. 

How Can I Prevent an Itchy Anus?

Keeping the area around your anus clean is the best way to make sure you aren't getting the urge to scratch at your behind. Preventing or treating pruritis ani is often possible by keeping your backside clean and ensuring you are getting everything dry after you bathe. Just be careful to be gentle and not overdo it. It is important to keep things clean down below, but too much cleaning can also irritate the sensitive skin around your anus.

Practicing good hygiene overall will help reduce the possibility of fungal or yeast infections, and managing your diet if you have any known food allergies or digestive conditions like inflammatory bowel disease are all ways to help prevent the need to scratch at your anus. 

Maintaining a good diet and getting enough exercise also helps keep things under control under your beltline. Exercise and proper attention to what you eat can improve overall gastrointestinal health, which can help you avoid diarrhea at one end of the spectrum and excessively hard stool at the other. These conditions can bring about irritation in the form of anal fissures or irritation to the anus from having to wipe too often. 

When to Seek Medical Help

For most people, having a doctor probing around your bottom to find out what is irritating you does not sound like a recipe for a good time. Despite the potential embarrassment and discomfort of getting your rear end inspected, there are some very serious medical conditions that can have anal itching as a symptom. 

If conservative home remedies are not providing relief, and even over-the-counter medication designed to reduce swelling, inflammation, and itching are proving to be ineffective, it is time to seek medical advice. 

Another sign you should seek medical help is the sudden appearance of large quantities of blood in your stool. Small spots of blood on your toilet paper is nothing to be worried about and could be more common if the skin around your anus is irritated. Frequent wiping with rough toilet paper is enough to possibly produce tiny amounts of bleeding. 

A large amount of blood in your stool is another story. This is potentially worrisome if you find blood in your stool over a longer period of time. If there is a noticeable quantity of blood in your feces or in the toilet after you have used the bathroom, it is time to call your doctor. Anal cancer and colorectal cancer can be lethal if they are not caught early enough, and rectal bleeding is a sign that something serious may have gone wrong in your gastrointestinal tract.

At Cary Gastroenterology Associates, we are here to help you understand the difference between a condition that is annoying or potentially embarrassing and one that could be life-threatening. Our focus on and experience in dealing with gastrointestinal disease means we can quickly identify the cause of your discomfort and help you get on the road to healing. 

Many causes of anal itching are not a reason for concern. There are some causes, though, that can be very serious and even life-threatening. In these cases, it is important to have experts by your side. If you are concerned about prolonged itching around your anus that is not responding to treatment, and especially if you are experiencing a large amount of bleeding from your rectum, make an appointment with Cary Gastroenterology Associates today. We can help you sort through the potential causes and point you in the right direction no matter how serious your condition might be.