An itch can be uncomfortable, annoying, and frustrating. And often when you scratch an itch, the scratching can cause further irritation to the skin. It might be difficult to resist the urge to scratch your itchy lower legs, but it might help if you understand why you itch.

Here are seven reasons that you could have itchy lower legs and ankles.

Allergic contact dermatitis

If you have contact with an allergen — a typically harmless substance that triggers an immune response — your skin can become inflamed, irritated, and itchy. That response is referred to allergic contact dermatitis. Items that are known to cause allergic contact dermatitis for some people include:

  • plants
  • metals
  • soaps
  • cosmetics
  • fragrances

Treatment: The primary treatment is to avoid contact with the substance that triggers the reaction. Applying moisturizer to the inflamed area or using over-the-counter (OTC) anti-itch medications, such as calamine lotion, can relieve the itchiness.

Xerosis

Xerosis is another name for very dry skin. This condition often isn’t accompanied by any noticeable rash, but if you start scratching the area to relieve the itch, you may start to see red bumps, lines, and irritation from the scratching. Xerosis is more common for people as they age and their skin becomes drier. The itchiness can be triggered by the dry heat in your home during winter or a hot bath.

Treatment: Applying moisturizers three or four times per day can help relieve the dryness and itchiness. It’s also recommended that you take shorter baths or showers and use warm water as opposed to hot.

Diabetes

Itching is a common symptom of diabetes. Itchy skin can be caused by high blood sugar levels over a prolonged period of time. Sometimes the skin itchiness can be caused by complications of diabetes, such as poor circulation, kidney disease, or nerve damage.

Treatment: Diabetes should be treated by a doctor. Itchy skin as a result of diabetes can be addressed by using a mild soap when you bathe and applying a good moisturizer.

Diseases other than diabetes

Itchy legs can be a symptom or sign of diseases other than diabetes, including:

Treatment: Appropriate treatment for the underlying cause of the itchy legs should be recommended and supervised by your doctor. Your doctor might also recommend specific topical treatments and lifestyle changes to address the itchiness.

Insect bites

Insects such as fleas can result in red bumps, hives, and intense itching. Also, bites from mites such as chiggers can cause itching.

Treatment: Once diagnosed, a doctor might recommend a hydrocortisone cream or local anesthetic. Often, a good OTC moisturizer containing lactate, menthol, or phenol will help relieve the inflammation and itchiness. You should also check to be sure that your living area is not infested.

Poor hygiene

If you don’t wash regularly and properly, dirt, sweat, and dead skin cells can build up on the legs, irritate them, and make them feel itchy. This can be aggravated by heat, dry air, and contact with your clothing.

Treatment: Bathing or showering regularly in warm water with mild soap and applying a moisturizer afterward will clean the skin and help keep it from drying out.

Stasis or gravitational eczema

Especially common among people living with vessel disorders such as varicose veins or deep vein thrombosis, stasis or gravitational eczema can cause itchy, swollen, reddish-purple patches on the lower legs.

Treatment: While treating you for the underlying conditions, your doctor might recommend applying corticosteroids to the affected areas — to lessen your discomfort — and keeping your legs elevated. Your doctor might also recommend compression stockings.

If you have tried self-care, like applying moisturizers, for a couple of weeks and the itchiness on your legs hasn’t improved, it’s time to see your doctor.

If the itch causes so much discomfort that it’s affecting your ability to sleep or it becomes a detriment to your daily life and interferes with your work, make an appointment with your doctor.

It’s important that you see your doctor right away if the itchiness is accompanied by other symptoms, such as:

  • fever
  • changes in bowel habits
  • changes in urinary frequency
  • extreme fatigue
  • weight loss

Itchy legs could have a simple explanation that can be easily remedied with self-care such as the use of moisturizer or adjusting bathing habits. Itchy legs could also be the symptom of an underlying cause, so if the itch is unusually persistent or is accompanied by other symptoms, it’s in your best interest to see your doctor.