If you have diabetes, you are more prone to having dry skin, which increases the probability of having itchy skin. Persistent itching in anyone can be an irritating and uncomfortable experience, and people with diabetes are more likely to experience itchy skin than people who do not have diabetes. Itching can lead to excessive scratching, which increases the chances of pain, discomfort, and if a crack develops on the skin, it increases the risk of infection as well.
What are the Causes of Itching in Diabetics?
It is possible for people with diabetes to develop localized areas of itching. There can be many causes of itching in people with diabetes. In some cases, this type of frequent itching in diabetics can be caused by damage to the nerve fibers present in the outer layers of the skin.(1, 2, 3)
In most cases, diabetic itching is because of peripheral neuropathy or diabetic polyneuropathy. These are some of the common complications of diabetes that happen when your blood sugar levels are out of control. Having high blood sugar levels can cause damage to nerve fibers, especially those present in the hands and feet.
In fact, studies have shown that nerve damage in diabetes could be related to an increase in cytokines in the body.(4) In some cases, continuing itchiness may be a sign that a person with diabetes is at a higher risk of nerve damage because of the increase in their cytokine levels. Some people start experiencing itching as one of the symptoms after the development of peripheral neuropathy.
If you find that the itching is disrupting your day-to-day life and has become persistent, you should not delay seeking medical attention.
People with diabetes are also more prone to develop complications, even serious ones like liver or kidney failures, which can also cause itching.(5)
Another cause of itching in people with diabetes can also be due to a negative side effect of a new medication or an allergic reaction to the drug. However, this does not mean that you stop taking the medication until you check it with your doctor and inform them that you are experiencing an allergic reaction. Your doctor will prescribe a new or replacement medicine in such cases.
People with diabetes are also susceptible to experiencing itching due to poor blood circulation. In such cases, the itching is most likely to occur in your lower legs.
Sometimes, certain skin products that contain fragrances, dyes, or even strong soaps can cause the skin to become dry, which causes itching. This is also true in the winter months when the weather causes the skin to become sensitive and dry.
Can Diabetic Skin Conditions Cause Itching?
It is also possible that an underlying skin condition causes itching. People who have diabetes are vulnerable to getting certain types of skin conditions and infections rather quickly than those who do not have diabetes. Some of these skin conditions include:
- Fungal infections: Fungal infections like jock itch and athlete’s foot can cause itching. The skin also tends to become hot, swollen, and red. In some cases, small blisters also develop, and in some time, they start giving out a liquid discharge. Candida albicans, the yeast-like fungus, are often the cause behind these infections.(6, 7)
- Eruptive Xanthomatosis: This skin condition is more commonly observed in people with type 1 diabetes. Eruptive xanthomatosis causes the formation of yellow lesions on the skin, usually about the size of a peanut. High fat and cholesterol levels increase the risk of getting this skin condition. These spots typically develop on the feet, legs, hands, buttocks, or the arms. Every bump tends to have a red ring around it, and it is commonly quite itchy.(8)
- Necrobiosis Lipoidica Diabeticorum (NLD): NLD is a rare type of skin condition that tends to occur on the lower legs, though it can develop on some other parts of the body as well. This condition starts out as a dull, red spot that has a raised surface. It then goes on to develop into a scar-like lesion that has a dark border. NLD also commonly causes itching and pain.(9, 10)
Symptoms of Diabetic Itching
Well, the symptoms of itching in people with diabetes vary from person to person and depend on the underlying cause. For example, if the itching is being caused due to peripheral neuropathy, you are most likely to develop itching on the lower half of your legs. You may also feel a sudden loss of sensation in your hands or feet. It is also common to feel a tingling sensation along with these symptoms.
If a skin condition or infection is causing the itching, the itching is mainly localized to the site of the lesion or spot.
There is no doubt that itching can be uncomfortable. It is likely that it wakes you at night, makes you feel uncomfortable, and the only thing on your mind is to keep scratching. This is why if the itching continues to persist, you should show it to a doctor.
How to Get Relief from Diabetic Itching?
If you have diabetes, there are several steps you can take to keep your skin healthy and also get relief from the persistent itching. Some of the things you can do to relieve the itching include:
- Manage your blood glucose levels properly and prevent the levels from getting too high.
- Avoid taking baths in very hot water as hot water strips the moisture from the skin.
- After a shower or bath, apply a skin lotion or moisturizer while the skin is still damp. However, ensure that you avoid putting lotion between your toes, as this can further attract harmful fungi and cause an infection, which is quite common in people with diabetes.
- Avoid using skin care products that contain strong fragrances or dyes. Always look for a skincare product that has a label stating that the lotion is gentle on the skin or it is hypoallergenic. There are certain manufacturers who actually make lotions that are especially for people who have diabetes.
Apart from this, make some healthy lifestyle changes to help reduce the chances of getting skin infections or conditions. One of the most important changes is eating a nutritious and balanced diet.
Anyone who has diabetes and has tried home remedies to get relief from itching knows how persistent diabetic itching can be. If you see no improvement in the itching even after around two weeks of trying home remedies should consult a doctor. While having itchy skin is normal for everyone sometime or the other, but for people with diabetes, itchy skin can actually be an indication that there might be possible nerve damage and that your diabetes is not under control.
Seeing a doctor and having the areas of patchy or dry skin looked at will help you understand whether the itching is being caused by diabetes or any other underlying skin condition is to be blamed. Your doctor will also prescribe the proper treatment to help you get relief from the itching.
- Calvet, H.M. and Yoshikawa, T.T., 2001. Infections in diabetes. Infectious disease clinics of North America, 15(2), pp.407-421.
- Van Hattem, S., Bootsma, A.H. and Thio, H.B., 2008. Skin manifestations of diabetes. Cleve Clin J Med, 75(11), pp.772-774.
- Furqan, S., Kamani, L. and Jabbar, A., 2014. Skin manifestations in diabetes mellitus. Journal of Ayub Medical College Abbottabad, 26(1), pp.46-48.
- Magrinelli, F., Briani, C., Romano, M., Ruggero, S., Toffanin, E., Triolo, G., Peter, G.C., Praitano, M., Lauriola, M.F., Zanette, G. and Tamburin, S., 2015. The association between serum cytokines and damage to large and small nerve fibers in diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Journal of diabetes research, 2015.
- Greaves, M.W., 2005. Itch in systemic disease: therapeutic options. Dermatologic therapy, 18(4), pp.323-327.
- Vazquez, J.A. and Sobel, J.D., 1995. Fungal infections in diabetes. Infectious Disease Clinics of North America, 9(1), pp.97-116.
- Poradzka, A., Jasik, M., Karnafel, W. and Fiedor, P., 2013. Clinical aspects of fungal infections in diabetes. Acta Pol Pharm, 70(4), pp.587-96.
- Zaremba, J., Zaczkiewicz, A. and Placek, W., 2013. Eruptive xanthomas. Advances in Dermatology and Allergology/Postȩpy Dermatologii i Alergologii, 30(6), p.399.
- MULLER, S.A. and Winkelmann, R.K., 1966. Necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum: a clinical and pathological investigation of 171 cases. Archives of dermatology, 93(3), pp.272-281.
- Kota, S.K., Jammula, S., Kota, S.K., Meher, L.K. and Modi, K.D., 2012. Necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum: A case-based review of literature. Indian journal of endocrinology and metabolism, 16(4), p.614.