In medical terminology, itching is generally referred to as pruritus. Pruritus is, therefore, not exclusively tied to itchy ankles, but it may still be used to describe this condition.
The skin is the largest organ of our body (it accounts for 15% of our total body weight) and its main role is to serve as a protective barrier. For this reason, we can view itching as a distress call, signaling that something is wrong with the specific area of the skin (in our case, the skin around the ankles).
Itchy ankles usually point to a certain dermatological problem (skin diseases and conditions) but is can also be a symptom of an internal disorder such as diabetes mellitus, problems with blood vessels and, in the most severe cases, occult carcinoma.
As you can see, there are a lot of potential causes of itchiness around the ankles, and we will go through each and every one of them in the following paragraphs.
What Leads To Itchy Ankles?
Before we dive into the list of causes (that lead to itchy ankles) we cannot control, I would like to first point out a few we are in our control of:
- Inappropriate footwear -often overlooked, this is one of the most common factors which contributes to the development of itchy ankles. As we all know, socks come in direct contact with the skin around our ankles and the material they are made of will play a crucial role here. If you ever wore wool socks you know what we`re talking about. Wooly socks can also irritate your skin even if you are wearing cotton ones underneath, so be careful when choosing your footwear. Also, you should try to avoid socks that are too tight around the ankles (wooly or not), as they can also lead to itching and contact dermatitis.
- Insect bites – the infamous mosquito bites; it seems that nothing else can produce such an intense itching feeling as a mosquito bite on the ankle (wrist can also itch like crazy). Mosquito bites on the ankles are especially common in the evening because most of our body is covered, but our wrists, neck, and ankles are usually vulnerable to attack! Other insects can also cause itching around our feet and ankles such as bed bugs and mites.
- Heat Rash – heat rash is common in athletes, golfers and runners especially. This rash typically occurs in people aged 50 and over, during hot and humid summer months. The main cause of this rash is sweat – what happens is sweat glands become clogged (when wearing tight socks) and the perspiration becomes trapped beneath the surface and irritates blood vessels.
- Bandage – just like the socks, different kinds of band-aids and bandages can irritate the skin, especially if worn over longer periods of time, and cause itching.
- Harsh soaps – most of you are probably not aware of this, but there are very few sweat glands around the ankles; and if you are too harsh with your cleansing routine, or use a harsh soap, you can strip the skin of its essential oils and dry it out, which will result in ankle itching.
- Neurodermatitis – neurodermatitis is a condition that starts with a small patch of itchy skin. As you scratch it, it makes it even itchier and as this cycle repeats, the skin becomes hard and thick. This condition is not life-threatening of contagious and, if you resist the urge to scratch, it can be easily taken care of with over-the-counter creams.
Most Common Causes Of Itchy Ankles
In this section, we are going to go over some of the most common medical conditions which lead to itchy ankles:
- Poor circulation – poor circulation is commonly present in extremities (arms and legs) and is not a “condition” by itself but it can lead to other health issues. Among others, it leads to:
- Varicose veins – varicose veins are enlarged veins that are damaged and can’t move blood as efficiently as other, healthy veins. This condition may lead to swelling of your feet and ankles, pain and cramping, discoloration, and itching around the ankles.
- Diabetes – at first glance you would probably not link these two, but itchy skin is usually one of the symptoms of diabetes. High blood sugar levels over a prolonged period of time may result in nerve damage and kidney problems. Unfortunately, people who experience itchy legs, feet and ankles are usually those who had very high blood sugar levels for a longer time period.
- Neuropathy – neuropathy is a disorder where nerves sensory response becomes impaired.
- Asteatotic eczema – asteatotic eczema is characterized by excess water loss from the epidermis (surface layer of the skin). When cells lose water they shrink, lose their elasticity and fissures appear. This condition may lead to itching and inflammation with the risk of an infection. This eczema is common in the elderly population.
- Nummular dermatitis – nummular dermatitis, also called discoid eczema, is a condition where people can observe distinct, coin-shaped sores on the skin around the ankle or elbows. This condition is more common in women.
- Cholinergic urticaria – this is a relatively common immune system disorder characterized by skin`s hypersensitivity to stimuli (heat, emotional stress, or exercise). This condition is relatively easy to diagnose since its most prominent symptom are small hives and patches of red, itchy skin.
Itchy Skin In Pregnancy
It is not uncommon for pregnant women to experience itchy skin, especially in the first trimester. This is the time when skin becomes much more sensitive and even something you would usually disregard (like the quality of your socks) may the be the main culprit behind your itchy legs, feet or ankles.
It wouldn’t hurt, though, to talk to your doctor should you experience itching that seems out of the ordinary in duration or intensity; just to be on the safe side.
Treating Itchy Ankles
Even though itching may seem benign (and it most cases it is), you should generally address it sooner than later. Of course, seeking medical attention is not always necessary, but if your itching is persistent and it just won’t go away, you should get it checked out.
Meanwhile, here are some of the best practices you should follow if you decide to tackle itchy ankles on your own:
- Stop scratching! I know that this may be easier said than done, but you saw earlier (when we were discussing neurodermatitis), that you can actually do yourself more harm if you scratch that patch of itchy skin consistently.
- Stopping the itching – one of the most common (and cost-efficient) ways of stopping itching dead in its tracks is using a cold pack. Cold packs will cool down your skin, and should reduce the itching feeling. NOTE: you should apply cold packs up to 20 minutes at a time, no longer. When dealing with insect bites, I also like to use heat. I make sure I set the water temperature to the maximum my skin can take and just let the water run for about 10 minutes. I feel that hot water has a similar effect as itching does, but without the skin damage and irritation.
- Menthol lotion – applying a moisturizing menthol lotion will have a soothing effect and reduce the intensity of the ankle itching. It will also moisturize (as the name suggests) your skin, prevent it from going dry and cracking. You can use pretty much any lotion you can get your hands on, but if you have sensitive skin make sure you pick one with natural/organic ingredients.
- Clay – I’ve used clay successfully for battling acne when I was a teen, but clay is also very helpful with itching and skin irritation. When buying, make sure you get untreated clay. Once you apply it, let it dry and rinse off.
- Aloe vera – aloe vera is pretty much a miracle plant and is used for every skin condition under the sun. All you need to do is break a leaf off the plant, and rub the gooey gel directly onto your skin.
- Call your dermatologist! This goes without saying really, dermatologist will be able to diagnose your condition and pinpoint the underlying cause of your itching.