Runner’s itch is a sensation that occurs in people who run or do strenuous exercise. There are several causes of this itchy feeling on the skin when exercising.
Typically, itchiness and allergic symptoms appear on the stomach and legs, though they can show up on any area of the body.
Usually, runner’s itch isn’t a cause for concern, and prevention and treatment is simple. Cases that involve severe symptoms may require specific treatment.
Read on to take a look at the causes of runner’s itch and ways to treat and prevent it.
There are several causes of runner’s itch. We’ll talk through what could be happening in your body to cause this itchy sensation.
Increased blood flow
If you’ve been sedentary or haven’t exercised in a while, returning to your running routine can lead to itchiness.
Running increases your heart rate and blood flow as your heart delivers more blood and oxygen to the targeted muscles. This causes your capillaries and arteries to expand and stimulates your nerve cells, which can lead to an itchy sensation.
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You may be especially prone to runner’s itch if you have sensitive skin. Allergies to certain laundry detergents, fabric softeners, or clothing material can cause itchiness. The combination of sweating and dry skin can worsen the irritation.
Use laundry products made for sensitive skin, and buy workout clothing made of moisture-wicking fabrics to limit sweaty skin. To combat dry skin, apply moisturizer before you run.
Exercise-induced urticaria is an allergic response that occurs when you experience itchiness along with hives or redness of the skin.
Additional symptoms can include:
- stomach cramps
- difficulty breathing
- swelling of the face, tongue, or hands
Exercise-induced urticaria occurs during or after strenuous exercise, such as running or hiking, especially when you do these activities in hot or cold weather.
Exercise-induced vasculitis is also known as golfer’s vasculitis or hiker’s rash. Sometimes it’s called the Disney rash since it often involves being physically active and exposed to sunlight on a hot day, which is common at Disney amusement parks.
This inflammatory condition involves red patches, purple spots, and swelling on the thighs and lower legs. The itchy rash is accompanied by intense stinging, pain, and burning.
Genetics may make you more prone to exercise-induced vasculitis. Usually, symptoms resolve on their own within a matter of days.
Exercise-induced purpura occurs in people who run marathons, take long walks, or engage in unusual physical activity. It’s especially common during hot weather in the mountains.
This condition causes blood spots to occur on the lower legs. It usually
In most cases, the sores heal within a few days.
Other possible causes
Other possible causes of runner’s itch include:
- food allergies
- alcoholic drinks
- medications, including aspirin
- other allergic reactions
While runner’s itch is uncomfortable, most of the time it’s not a cause for concern.
Developing a consistent exercise routine is the best way to prevent runner’s itch and reduce its intensity. Usually, as your body gets used to exercising again, the itching subsides.
Slow down, take a break, or stop exercising as soon as your symptoms begin. If you have a severe case of runner’s itch that doesn’t get better with treatment, you may need to stop exercising altogether, especially during warm weather.
- Take a warm bath with oatmeal, Epsom salts, or baking soda.
- Apply aloe vera gel, hydrocortisone cream, or a cold compress to the itchy area.
- To improve leg circulation, wear compression stockings and elevate your legs for 15 minutes at a time a few times per day.
Talk with your healthcare provider if itchiness is accompanied by:
- difficulty breathing
- hives that occur along with severe stinging, pain, or burning and don’t subside within 10 minutes
Your doctor can perform allergy and exercise tests to determine the cause.
While you may not be able to prevent runner’s itch completely, you can reduce outbreaks.
Running regularly is the best way to prevent runner’s itch. A consistent running routine increases your blood volume, which means your body won’t have to increase blood flow as much. Plus, your body will be used to the increased blood flow when it does occur.
Use a journal to track any foods or drinks that may contribute to runner’s itch so you can observe how your body reacts. You may need to avoid certain foods or drinks altogether or consume them several hours before you exercise.
Severe cases may require a prescription for an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen). To prevent symptoms from becoming life threatening, you inject this medication as soon as symptoms develop.
Additional ways to prevent runner’s itch include:
- taking nondrowsy antihistamines
- wearing workout clothing suited to hot or cold weather
- using numbing spray
- taking baths and showers with cool or warm water instead of hot water
- avoiding excessive sun exposure
- exercising during the coolest part of the day
Usually, runner’s itch is a mild occurrence and isn’t anything to worry about. You can prevent runner’s itch by running regularly, taking antihistamines, and avoiding triggers including certain foods and drinks.
Slow down or take a break if you experience runner’s itch. Talk with your doctor if your symptoms are severe or don’t improve with treatment.