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A persistent itch
Itchiness, also called pruritus, can happen anywhere on your body. One of the most common areas of the body to experience an itch is your ankles.
You’ll want to evaluate the particulars of your itchy ankles to figure out the cause, but you should see a doctor if your itch persists.
Some itches are limited to the ankles, but you may also experience itchiness that covers more areas of the body. There are many potential causes of itchy ankles, and many conditions can affect one or both ankles.
This condition is more commonly caused by a reaction to a skin irritant (irritant contact dermatitis), but one could have an allergic contact dermatitis. Different things can cause contact dermatitis, such as soap, cosmetics, fragrances, clothing, animals, jewelry, or poison ivy. While the main symptom is a red rash that develops where the skin came into contact with the substance, other symptoms include:
Allergies can be caused by many different foreign substances and are one of the most common causes of itchiness. Some allergic reactions are localized, and they can cause symptoms in one place, such as the ankles. Some allergic reactions can cause a systemic reaction that affects the entire body.
Hives, also known as urticaria, are a skin rash that can be triggered by food, medication, and other irritants. If you break out in hives, the most common symptoms are itchy, red, raised, and swollen welts on the affected area.
Because most hives are the result of a number of different agents, removal of that agent is key in treatment, but most hives go away on their own and are limited to the affected area.
A common cause of itchy ankles is athlete’s foot, a type of ringworm fungal infection. Other fungal infections that may affect the ankles are jock itch (another type of ringworm) and yeast infections.
Because each fungus thrives in warm and moist environments, you put yourself at risk for this type of infection if you wear closed footwear for long periods of time. Other symptoms that accompany fungal infections include:
- blisters and sore feet
Cellulitis, which is inflammation of the skin and adjacent soft tissue layer, is commonly caused by Staphylococcus and Streptococcus bacterial infections. It can present with a number of different symptoms, including:
- open sores
Bacterial infections of the feet and ankles need to be monitored closely, as they can lead to abscesses, bone infections, and gangrene if not treated properly.
Dry skin can be caused by a number of different factors, including skin care products and weather. You might also see that your skin begins to:
- become discolored
Because dry skin is more prone to cracking and splitting, injuries such as these might increase feelings of itchiness. Dry skin can also be an indicator of a more severe skin condition, such as eczema or psoriasis.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition. It occurs when skin cells reproduce too quickly. This causes:
- silver-white scales on reddish skin patches (plaque psoriasis)
- dry patches of skin
- small bumps
- thickening of the skin
Psoriasis can be very uncomfortable. Those diagnosed with psoriasis usually go through cycles of flare-ups and remission.
Eczema (atopic dermatitis)
Eczema is a skin condition that results in itchy and inflamed areas of the body. It’s a common condition (affecting about 17 percent of the population) that usually first appears in childhood. While the main symptom is a rash that appears on the wrists, hands, feet, ankles, and behind the knees, it can show up anywhere. Other symptoms of this condition are:
- dryness of the skin
Healing from a sprain or wound can cause itchiness, especially if you have to wear some sort of cast, wrap, bandage, or compression tape. Itchiness can also happen as a result of the skin stretching when the area is swollen. It’s also possible that the pain-relieving medications can cause you to itch as well.
In warmer temperatures, or during physical exercise, it’s common for sweat to gather in your socks. If your socks are too tight, or if there isn’t enough ventilation in your shoes, your sweat glands can become clogged, leading to skin irritation and rashes.
Mild and severe sunburns can become itchy as your skin starts to peel during the healing process. The itching will usually clear up once the skin has healed. Severe burns that result in blisters will need to be monitored even more closely as blisters can burst and become infected, which can lead to further itching.
Parasites are organisms that live off the expense of other organisms. When certain parasites make a home of your ankle, it addition to itchiness, it can cause:
Because of their constant contact with the ground, ankles and feet can be an environment that provides easy access to certain kinds of parasites, such as lice, bed bugs, and fleas. When these ectoparasites cause local irritation in the ankles, this leads to itching and scratching.
Problems with the liver, such as certain types of liver disease, biliary tree obstruction (which could be caused by gallstones), and liver cancer may result in a raised level of bilirubin in the bloodstream. It isn’t completely understood why, but the skin may begin to itch as a result of the excess level of bilirubin that occurs.
The most symptomatic sites of this particular itch are the palms and soles of the feet, but the pruritus tends to occur all over the body. Other symptoms of liver problems are:
- jaundiced skin
- abdominal pain and swelling
- dark urine
- pale stools
- chronic fatigue
- loss of appetite
- tendency to bruise easily
Diabetes is a disease that results in too much sugar in the bloodstream. It can often lead to itching sensations. High blood sugar can cause dry skin, and those with diabetes are also more likely to have skin infections, peripheral neuropathy, and poor blood circulation that can lead to further itchiness.
Feet are prone to poor circulation, which can be a common cause of itchiness in the feet. If your blood begins to pool in your lower extremities, you can damage your veins. Your skin can start to swell, which leads to itchiness. This also makes your feet more prone to developing sores, which can get infected and develop an itch.
If you have an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the cells of the skin, this can cause itching. Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, in particular, are known to cause symptoms of itchiness.
Though rare, there are some instances where itching can be caused as a result of cancers. Cancers of the blood, lymphatic system, liver, kidney, and skin can result in generalized itchiness. Additionally, cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation, can cause itching sensations in the skin.
Most causes of itchy ankles are harmless, but there are some circumstances where itchy ankles indicate a much more severe health issue. For that reason, consult your doctor if you have a persistent itch in the foot area. Don’t attempt to diagnose yourself.
At the appointment, your doctor will want to know:
- how long you have been experiencing the itchiness
- how long the itching sensation lasts
- if it’s affecting other areas of the body
- if there are certain things that trigger itching episodes
They will also inspect the itchy area, looking for symptoms that accompany other causes.
There are a number of at-home treatments that can help with itchy ankles:
- avoid items that cause you to itch
- apply creams or gels that cool the skin
- apply anti-itch cream
- apply a cool, wet compress
- reduce stress
Depending on the underlying cause of your itchiness, your doctor may treat your itchy ankles with a number of different products:
Depending on the underlying cause of your itchy ankles, the treatment plan and healing time will be different. In most cases, having itchy ankles will not affect your health in the long term. However, depending on your condition, it may be advisable to continue to consult a dermatologist or another specialist. Once you determine what’s causing the itchiness, you can seek out appropriate treatment and begin your recovery.