Itch is typically a sign that something has irritated the skin, causing a nerve reaction that encourages you to scratch to help remove the offending particles. In most cases this irritation is caused by a buildup of dead skin cells or other irritants that are not harmful to the body. However, itchiness on the lower legs may also be a sign of an infection or circulatory issue that is making the legs uncomfortable. Knowing the causes and remedies can help you better deal with itchy lower legs.
Causes of Itchy Lower Legs
1. Dry Skin
Dry skin can be caused by a variety of conditions including a diet that lacks an adequate supply of fatty acids, old age, dehydration, genetic predisposition, excessive showering or use of soap, and diseases such as hypothyroidism. When the skin is excessively dry it can become itchy and uncomfortable.
Treatment. Those that frequently suffer from dry skin should make a point of applying a moisturizing cream after they have showered. Avoid direct exposure to the sun or wind that can dry out the skin and drink plenty of fluids each day to promote good hydration. You should drink enough to allow your body to expel at least 200 ml of clear urine every morning. Because pregnant women tend to have dry skin, several anti-itch creams have been developed that are safe to use during this time.
2. Poor Hygiene
If you do not wash properly dust, sweat or skin bacteria that has broken down can build up on the legs. This may irritate the nerve endings in this area, making you feel itchy. Irritation from your clothing or heat can aggravate this sensation.
Treatment. Showering regularly in lukewarm water will help to remove these irritants. A mild soap is best for washing away dead skin cells and dirt without stripping the skin of protective fats that are necessary to keep the skin from drying out.
This condition causes small, benign, goose bump like growths to appear on the legs. They are caused by keratin protein plugging the hair follicles. The bumps may be slightly pink, but are typically the same color as the skin and around the size of a grain of sand. Besides being itchy, they will feel quite rough, often causing the skin to take on the texture of sandpaper. Keratosis is more common in winter months and in those that suffer from atopic dermatitis or dry skin.
Treatment. Those that suffer from keratosis often see their symptoms fade as they age. In the meantime, moisturizing lotions can minimize the appearance and discomfort associated with the bumps. Steroid creams can be used to minimize redness. Seek out creams that include lactic acid, urea, salicylic acid, glycolic acid, vitamin D or tretinoin for the best effects.
Folliculitis is a staph infection that affects the hair follicles. This will cause areas such as the lower legs, buttocks or thighs to become covered with painful, red, itchy bumps that may occasionally include a pus-filled center. Athletes that tend to wear tight clothing or those that tend to share clothing with others are more prone to developing this condition.
Treatment. Employing proper hygiene will help rid the skin of this infection within a few days. If the bumps will not disappear in this time period you may actually be suffering from an acne outbreak.
5. Cholinergic Urticaria
This condition causes hives or bumps to appear in areas like the thighs, arms, lower legs or upper trunk after performing activities like running or taking a hot shower. This condition may also cause the legs to become very itchy for up to two hours. Cholinergic urticarial is commonly caused by an allergy to your own sweat which leads to irritation on the skin.
Treatment. Those that tend to develop these hives should try to avoid scratching them because this will make the itchiness worse. Avoid exercising in warm weather and stop running if hives start to develop. Taking an antihistamine around 30 minutes before showering or exercising can help to quell this itchiness.
6. Jock Itch
This fungal infection, often referred to as ringworm, is common for those that expose themselves to moist areas. The groin, buttocks, genitals and inner thighs are particularly susceptible to developing this condition. Those affected by jock itch will notice a rash that is brown and itchy keeps appearing on the affected skin.
Treatment. Those that have developed jock itch will need to apply antifungal medications to clear away the spores. Making an effort to keep the skin, particularly around the groin, dry will help to prevent infections in the future.
7. Stasis Eczema
Stasis or gravitational eczema causes purple or reddish, itchy and swollen patches to appear on the lower legs. This is more common in those that suffer from vessel disorders such as varicose veins or vein thrombosis. This rash can spread to other areas of the body as well.
Treatment. Treating the underlying condition contributing to the eczema will help to reduce outbreaks. When outbreaks occur, applying corticosteroids to the affected areas can lessen your discomfort. Keeping the legs elevated whenever possible and sleeping with pillows under the legs can help reduce outbreaks as well. Make a point to walk regularly, wear compression stockings and avoid standing for long periods of time to minimize the effects.
8. Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome causes a temporary tingling or itching sensation that is accompanied by an overwhelming urge to move your legs. This sensation is typically more intense in the evening and may cause the legs to twitch while you sleep. The cause of this condition is currently unknown.
Treatment. Making a point to avoid stimulants like alcohol, caffeine or things that trigger an itch in the legs will help to avoid these symptoms. Some mediations such as those for epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, muscle relaxers, sleeping medications or opioids are also available to help minimize symptoms. Moving the legs can also provide temporary relief.
9. Other Causes
- Unfit Runners. Running for long periods of time after a long bout of inactivity can cause the legs to develop a strong itching sensation. This is typically caused by an inappropriate opening of the arteries in the leg muscles, irritating nearby nerve endings.
- Itch after Shower. Itching after taking a shower may be caused by cholinergic urticarial, a rare blood malignancy known as polycythemia, psychic reasons or the excessive use of hot water or harsh soap that is drying out the skin.
- Insect Bites. Fleas or other insects may be living in the carpets of your home, causing hives, red bumps or itching on the legs when they bite. If others in your home appear to be exhibiting similar symptoms, fleas in the carpet may be to blame.
- Allergies. Allergies can be caused by a variety of allergens in the environment, leading to rashes on the legs. Contact with substances such as poison oak or poison ivy may lead to blisters on the legs if you do not treat them immediately.
- Diseases. Some internal disorders like hepatitis, diabetes, kidney failure or lymphomas may cause the lower legs to become itchy. Conditions such as golfer’s vasculitis or sunburn may cause rashes to appear on the lower leg after long periods of standing, running or walking.
More Remedies for Itchy Lower Legs
Besides the treatment mentioned above for different conditions that may be responsible for itchy legs, there are several general remedies that can be used to provide relief.
- Use cleansers and soaps with a low pH balance to avoid drying the skin as well. Take the time to ensure all soap residue has been rinsed away to avoid irritation.
- Scratching areas that are itchy may intensify the sensation and cause the skin in this area to become thick and leather-like. The skin may also become red or darker than other areas of the body. Scratching too frequently or with excessive vigor can scar the skin and increase the risk of developing hyperpigmentation or a bacterial infection in the area.
When to See a Doctor
If the itchiness on your legs has not improved with self-care and has lasted for longer than 2 weeks it is important to seek medical attention. This is particularly important if the itchiness is accompanied by fever, changes in bowel habits or urinary frequency, redness of the skin, extreme fatigue or weight loss. If you cannot explain what is causing the itch, the itch is so uncomfortable that it prevents sleeping or the participation in daily activities or affects the entire body, seek medical advice right away.