In need of help navigating life with diabetes? You can always Ask D'Mine! Yep, our weekly Q&A column by veteran type 1 and diabetes author Wil Dubois is here for you.

Seems like there's always a metaphoric itch to scratch when it comes to life with diabetes, no? But what about those literal itches on your body -- could diabetes be a cause? Wil digs into that question today...

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Jan, type 2, from New Hampshire, writes: I’ve been experiencing intense itching all over my body and it’s driving me crazy. Could this somehow be related to my diabetes? Someone also recommended using Listerine to stop the itching...? Is that a good option, or do you have another suggestion?

Wil@Ask D’Mine answers: Oh, man, that really sucks. I can’t imagine anything more annoying on a minute-by-minute basis. Let’s see what we can do to help you scratch that itch.

To you first question: Is the Big D the smoking gun in the case of the itchy epidermis? It might be, at least indirectly. If your sugars have been running high lately—and let’s be honest here, we all go through those periods of less than ideal control—it can have a profoundly dehydrating effect on your body, including drying out your skin. All of it.

And dry skin itches.

At least it does for many people. So that might explain why it seems your entire body is itching. After all, dry skin from high blood sugar is global in its effect, rather than, say, winter dry skin—which tends to be limited to the parts of your body (such as your hands) that get exposed to the cold.

If elevated glucose is the cause of your dry skin, Job One is to get with your medical team and make some adjustments. Don’t forget that type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition, which is an overly clinical way of saying it gets worse over time despite your best efforts. It may be time to increase a medication dose, or go to the next level and add a new med. That will help solve the underlying issue, but in the meantime, what on earth to do about the infernal itching?

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Assuming that your skin is itching because it’s dry, all the normal dry skin interventions will help. Use fragrance-free soaps and shampoos. Slather yourself with lotions that contain dimethicone. Buy a home humidifier. Try an oatmeal bath, but don’t take too many of them. While soaking in a tub may feel good in the short-term, over-bathing can exacerbate dry skin by washing away the natural protective oils.

And what about the Listerine?

Well, I looked into the whole Listerine thing for you and as it turns out, Listerine is a widely used, if unorthodox, treatment for itchy skin caused by the skin conditions eczema and psoriasis. Mouthwash for itchy skin? What the heck…? No one knows how it works, but many swear by it. One theory is that Listerine contains essential oils — including eucalyptus, mint, thyme, and wintergreen — and that one, or a combination of these oils, provides relief to itchy skin.

On the other hand, Listerine also contains alcohol, and that can dry skin out even more

Speaking of skin conditions like eczema, are there any diabetes-specific skin conditions? Why, yes. There are a number including diabetic dermopathy, bullosis diabeticorum, and the improbably named necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum — which sounds vaguely to me more like the title of a medieval grimoire than a bonafide medical condition. (Not to diss anyone suffering from it.) The good news, if there is such a thing in this subject area, is that most of these diabetes-related skin conditions don’t cause itching.

Of course, yeast infections, which can itch like crazy, or so I’m told, are more common in people with diabetes, as are bacterial and fungal infections of the skin—although none of these typically affect the entire body, as you are reporting. I should mention in passing that if anyone else reading this is having itching that’s mainly on the legs, and worse on the lower legs, that’s a sign of poor circulation.

You know, just in writing this, I’m starting to itch all over, myself. Scratch-scratch-scratch.

Lastly, which in hindsight, I maybe should have put up front, is that there’s always the possibility that you’re suffering from an allergic reaction to a medication. It could be a diabetes medication or a medication for any of the posse of other conditions that tend to chase diabetes around. Obviously, if you started a new med shortly before the itching started, that’s a red flag. But it’s also possible to develop an allergy out of the blue to an agent you’ve been taking for years. The danger here is that itching could just be the start. Allergies can accelerate, and can turn deadly. If you take a lot of meds, as most type 2s do, sorting this out is going to be darned difficult and you will need the help of your medical team.

So what should you do about itching? First check with your doc about the possibility of an allergic reaction. Then, once you are in the clear there, and if you’re still scratching yourself night and day, consider hooking up with a dermatologist (not in that way) to help you get to the bottom of the problem, and treat the underlying cause.

In the meantime, treat the symptoms—the intense itching that’s driving you crazy—using anything that works. Including Listerine.

 

This is not a medical advice column. We are PWDs freely and openly sharing the wisdom of our collected experiences — our been-there-done-that knowledge from the trenches. Bottom line: you still need the professional advice, treatment, and care of a licensed medical professional.