People living with diabetes are at least four to five times at a greater risk of developing itchy skin or pruritus. 1 In diabetes, itchy skin can be due to several causes, including changes in the nerves or skin, the presence of other diseases, and even some medications.
Some of the Major Causes of Itchy Skin in Diabetes
Those living with diabetes must first exclude more severe conditions like psoriasis, drug eruption, other inflammatory disorders, liver diseases, and hypothyroidism, to name a few. It is because people living with diabetes are just more prone to other illnesses.
The most common cause of itching could be peripheral neuropathy. It may affect nerves that are responsible for the sensation or cause changes in the local sensory receptors in the skin. This can lead to itchy skin along with some other sensory changes such as reduced pain sensation, and slow reflexes.
Those living with diabetes may also have itchy skin due to changes in the brain, as they may become hypersensitive to various irritants.
Specialists also recommend looking beyond neuropathies. Since in many, it may be psychogenic. Those living with diabetes are more concerned about various health issues, and they might pay great attention to the skin.
Autonomic neuropathy is another major cause of itchy skin. Unlike peripheral neuropathy, it does not cause changes in sensation, but it does influence other skin functions like hydration. Thus, some may develop dry skin, and others may experience excessive sweating. Any such changes would result in excessive sweating.
Those living with diabetes are also more prone to fungal infections. Many of these fungal infections may not be visible in the initial stages. However, they tend to cause severe itching. In some cases, such an infection may cause small blisters and discoloration of the skin.
Importance of Managing Itchy Skin
Itching may sound like quite a benign symptom. Most may not even take it seriously. It is rarely considered something of concern in healthy adults, however, not in those living with diabetes. Diabetic people may scratch their skin, and there is a much higher risk of skin getting infected. In addition, even a simple act of itching may cause a poorly healing wound.
Those experiencing increased itching should check their blood glucose level. Poorly controlled diabetes is the primary reason for the symptom.
Exercise is one of the best non-pharmacological means of overcoming the problem as it may boost blood flow to the skin and help gain better control over diabetes.
Using commonly available creams and moisturizers for relieving symptoms may help, but not always. In addition, one should be careful as some of the cosmetic creams and moisturizers may instead cause skin irritation.
Perhaps the best approach to managing itchy skin is buying a cream or ointment created for diabetic skin. Generally, such creams will have a soothing action, contain hypo-allergic components, and, even more importantly, have mild anti-microbial properties. In addition, such a cream would promote the healing of minor scratches.
- Vinik AI. Barely Scratching the Surface. Diabetes Care. 2010;33(1):210-212. doi:10.2337/dc09-2035