Lower Leg Itch: Symptoms & Treatments
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Itchy lower legs can be a nuisance and have related symptoms of redness, bumps on the lower legs, dryness, and pain. The many causes of a lower leg itch include skin conditions like eczema and dermatitis, damage to the nerves that may be caused by diabetes, or an allergic reaction from plants, foods, or insects. Read below for more information on causes and treatment options for itchy lower legs.
Common symptoms of itchy lower legs
An itch is an uncomfortable sensation on the skin that causes the urge to scratch. Although it is likely due to some sort of minor irritant or dryness, this sensation in the lower leg can be associated with various conditions. There are several main symptoms including:
- Blisters or bumps
- Changes in skin texture: Skin may become scaly, leathery, or papery.
Scratching is also an important symptom of lower leg itch. Even though scratching can be helpful in relieving an itchy sensation, it only offers temporary relief. Scratching can also result in breaks in the skin that can lead to bleeding or infection, further exacerbating the issue.
Other characteristics to consider
Sometimes a lower leg itch may not be associated with any visible skin changes. In this case, it is important to take note of other symptoms associated with your lower leg itch such as:
- Timing: Does the itch happen during a specific time in the day? After certain activities?
- Laterality: Does the itchy sensation occur in one leg (unilateral) or both (bilateral)?
- Acuity: Is this the first time the sensation has occurred? Or have you experienced lower leg itch before?
Although conditions associated with lower leg itch are not usually serious or life-threatening, it is important to make an appointment with your physician in order to get appropriate, long-lasting care and prevent complications.
Why do my lower legs itch?
An itch, also known as pruritus, occurs as a result of irritation or stimulation of cells and receptors on the skin particularly those related to nerves. Stimulation of these nerve cells and the itching that results can be caused by multiple conditions that can be grouped in the following categories:
Many skin conditions such as eczema, hives, psoriasis and a variety of other illnesses that specifically affect the skin and its layers can result in itchiness of the lower extremities. Often, such conditions are also associated with symptoms such as redness, blisters or flaking. On the other hand, skin that is simply dry due to old age or temperature changes can also result in itchy skin.
Itching in the lower legs may be a sign of an underlying, systemic condition. There are many illnesses that can also cause itching and they can be grouped into the following categories:
- Metabolic: Conditions such as diabetes, renal disease and thyroid disease that affect the metabolic homeostasis of the body can result in itching of the lower leg as well as other parts of the body.
- Hematologic: Blood conditions such as anemia and leukemia can cause itching in addition to symptoms such as fatigue and weight loss.
- Neurologic: Conditions that affect the nervous system such as shingles, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis can also result in itching of the lower extremities and other parts of the body.
Certain environmental causes can lead to an itch, including:
- Allergens: The skin works primarily as a protective barrier and is very sensitive to environmental factors that cause irritation or allergic reactions. Allergens can include drugs, topical treatments such as soaps or lotions, certain fabrics or metals, plants, foods and a variety of other substances. Itching that results is a form of warning or deterrent from using these irritants.
- Insect bites: A bite from any insect mosquito, spider, flea, etc. can easily stimulate the nerve cells on the skin that results in itchiness.
- Stress: Some people scratch when they are stressed, or scratch their skin as a habit in certain conditions.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
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Normal episode of itchy skin
Itchy skin is also called pruritis. There are a number of "normal" causes for itching, meaning the cause is not disease-related and does not result in seriously damaged skin.
The most common causes are:
- Dry skin, due to bathing in soap or bubble bath that may be too harsh and is stripping the natural oils from the skin.
- Mild allergies, which may be caused by dust; certain plants and flowers; nickel-containing jewelry; and any sort of soap, detergent, lotion, or perfume.
- Pregnancy, due to stretching of skin or to a condition called prurigo. Prurigo causes small, itchy bumps which may be due to an autoimmune system dysfunction during pregnancy.
Menopause, due to hormonal changes that may leave the skin overly dry.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination and sometimes allergy tests.
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Treatments include at-home remedies and lifestyle changes and further medical options you can receive from your physician.
Many causes of lower leg itch can be stopped or prevented with simple lifestyle changes that can be done at home:
- Keep the skin adequately moisturized: Using unscented, dermatologically tested lotions and moisturizing cream on the lower leg can prevent skin dryness that can cause itchiness .
- Avoid allergens: Take note of symptoms that occur after using or ingesting certain substances and try to avoid them. It may be helpful to get formal allergy testing in order to be prepared and knowledgeable about your allergic triggers.
- Reduce stress: Stress can exacerbate itching and scratching. Try stress-relieving strategies such as meditation, yoga or behavioral modification therapy.
If your lower leg itch persists despite the home remedies above, make an appointment with your physician. If your itching is caused by an underlying metabolic, hematologic or neurologic condition, your physician will focus on treating that condition first. If your symptoms are due to another cause, he or she may suggest the following treatments that may help relieve your itchy skin:
- Corticosteroid creams: If your itching is due to a rash or skin disorder such as eczema or dermatitis, corticosteroids are helpful given their anti-inflammatory effect in addition to their immunosuppressive role.
- Antihistamines: If your itching is due to an allergic reaction, your physician may prescribe medications that fight the immunologic response causing your inflammation and itching.
- Light therapy (phototherapy): This treatment involves exposing the skin to specific wavelengths of ultraviolet light in order to help get the itching sensation under control.
FAQs about lower leg itch
Why is the itching only in my lower legs?
The lower extremities are particularly sensitive to changes in temperature and become easily dry and itchy, especially in low humidity conditions. The skin overlying the shin is the thinnest and often the first to be affected in many dermatologic conditions, especially skin dryness.
Will the itching spread from the lower leg to the rest of my body?
Depending on the specific cause of your lower leg itch, there is a possibility that the itching can spread from the lower leg to the rest of the body. For example, in many systemic diseases, itching may result in multiple extremities while in the case of an insect bite, the itching likely will not spread.
Is a rash always associated with a lower leg itch?
No. Rash is often associated with lower leg itch in conditions that cause irritation or specifically affect the skin layers. However, in systemic conditions or conditions related to stress or certain allergens, there is often no rash present .
What are the complications of lower leg itch?
Complications of lower leg itch are usually the result of persistent scratching. Scratching can cause breaks in the skin that lead to infection or another skin injury. Furthermore, scratching can lead to scarring and thickening of the skin.
Is lower leg itch a temporary or chronic condition?
Lower leg itch can be either temporary or chronic depending on the underlying cause. Usually, lower leg itch associated with allergens resolves once the offending agent is discontinued. However, lower leg itch associated with chronic conditions such as diabetes or liver disease can persist especially if adequate treatment is not obtained .
Questions your doctor may ask about lower leg itch
- Do you have trouble sleeping?
- Are your symptoms worse during the late afternoon or night?
- Do your symptoms get worse at rest?
- Are you sleepy during the day?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
Dr. Gambrah-Lyles is a resident pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine (2019). She graduated cum laude and received her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Spanish from Washington University in St. Louis (2013). Her research explores the intersections between neurology, public health, and infectious disease. She has investigated nutrition and cerebral palsy in Botswana, and completed a year-long project in Brazil, researching growth and developmental outcomes of Zika virus infection in pediatric patients as a Doris Duke International Scholar. Dr. Gambrah-Lyles speaks four languages, loves staying active, and enjoys sharing her love for medicine through teaching and writing.