Itchy Legs: Causes and Treatment

If you notice that your legs are more itchy than normal, it's likely not a cause for concern. Itchy legs are commonly caused by dry skin, but this feeling can also be indicative of more serious conditions.

It's important to avoid scratching your itchy legs, as this may cause further damage to the skin and can make the area feel even more sensitive. Read on to learn more about what causes itchy legs and what you can do to alleviate the itch.

A person sitting on the ground itching their legs.

Tharakorn Arunothai / EyeEm / Getty

Causes

The causes of itchy legs can be broken up into four categories:

  • Neurogenic: This type of itch is driven by issues with the nervous system, which is the body’s communication pathway.
  • Psychogenic: This feeling of itchiness is caused by a psychological disorder.
  • Neuropathic: An itch that's caused by nerve damage in the body.
  • Pruriceptive: Itchiness that is generated in the skin itself. For instance, the skin may become itchy and irritated in reaction to an insect bite. 

The following causes of itchy legs fall into one of these four categories. 

Dry Skin

Dry skin belongs to the pruriceptive category, which is the most common cause of itchy legs. Dry skin occurs when the skin lacks moisture and becomes dehydrated. 

Allergic Reactions

Certain allergens can lead to extremely itchy legs. The most common allergen that people come into contact with is nickel, but other irritating substances found in hygiene products, nail polish, and latex are also common. When an allergic reaction occurs, the skin will feel intensely itchy and a rash will develop.

Products That Contain Nickel

In today’s world, it’s hard to avoid contact with nickel because the substance can be found in many products that are used every day. Products with nickel include eyeglass frames, zippers, belt buckles, jewelry, and cellphones.

Diabetes

Diabetes isn’t often thought to be associated with skin ailments, however, the disease does have several skin manifestations. Some of the skin issues associated with diabetes can cause itching, such as:  

  • Necrobiosis Lipodica Diabeticorum (NLD)
  • Granuloma Annulare (GA)
  • Scleroderma

People with diabetes are also more likely to have dry skin due to high blood sugar levels that, overtime, can damage the nerves in the legs. This, in turn, can cause the legs to become itchy.  

Certain Diseases

Various other types of disease can also cause itchy legs to occur. Some include:

Itchy Legs As a Warning Sign

Sometimes, having extremely itchy legs can alert you to an underlying health condition. If you have chronic and intense itchy legs that are not relieved by removing allergens, changing moisturizers, or keeping the skin hydrated, you should see a healthcare professional.

Skin Conditions

Skin conditions are another likely culprit behind the itchy sensation in your legs. There are several types of skin conditions that lead to itch. The symptom itself may be mild or severe, and can be accompanied by a rash. Skin conditions that lead to itchy legs include:

  • Various types of eczema
  • Chickenpox and shingles, which are both caused by the same virus
  • Folliculitis, which develops because of inflammation to hair follicles on the body
  • Hives
  • Psoriasis
  • Neurodermatitis, which is a skin condition that causes intense and chronic itchy skin that worsens when it is scratched
  • Ringworm, which is a type of fungal infection that affects the skin and causes a ring-like rash

Medications

Certain medications can cause your legs to become itchy, such as:

  • Prescription strength painkillers like opioids
  • Antimalarials, which are designed to treat or prevent malaria
  • Hydroxyethyl starch, which is a drug that is used to help prevent shock after a person loses a significant amount of blood
  • Some blood pressure drugs
  • Aspirin
  • Anticancer drugs

Insect Bites

There are many insects that bite and leave behind a feeling of itchiness. For example, mosquito bites typically cause an itchy sensation, but this feeling tends to fade once the bite heals.

The itchy feeling can be intense and may become chronic if the culprit is not identified, which can sometimes be the case with bed bugs, mites, or lice. If you suspect that you have been bitten or infected with any of these insects, it's best to seek out immediate treatment to remove the bugs from your skin, scalp, and home.

Treatment

Treating itchy legs depends highly on the cause. If your itchy legs are caused by dry skin, restoring moisture and hydration can help to relieve the symptom. There are also topical lotions, like hydrocortisone cream, that can be purchased over-the-counter to help relieve the itch that is caused by certain skin conditions such as eczema.

Other ingredients to look out for when purchasing itch-relieving creams are pramoxine and ceramide. Studies have shown that these two ingredients are well tolerated and effective at relieving itchiness.

In the event that you have a more serious skin condition, you may require a topical prescription to help manage and control flare-ups that cause itching. In other instances where the itch stems from a systemic or whole body disease, you will need to talk to a healthcare provider for treatment. 

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Many cases of itchy legs can improve significantly with over-the-counter products and at-home remedies. However, there are some cases where you will need to see a healthcare professional:

  • Intense itching that does not go away with the use of moisturizers or other at-home treatment methods
  • Itchiness is accompanied by a rash that continues to get worse
  • The itch interferes with your ability to get a good night’s sleep

Any symptoms of another type of disease along with itchy legs could be indicative of an underlying health condition. In this case, you should book an appointment with your healthcare provider. 

Summary

Since dry or irritated skin is the most common reason a person's legs might itch, it's typically not a cause for concern. Although underlying disease, such as diabetes, as well as other skin conditions can sometimes be a cause of itchy legs.

You'll likely be able to treat the itch at home using moisturizing agents to help heal the dry skin. However, if you are experiencing other symptoms, like a rash or an itch that does not resolve over time, this warrants a trip to your physician.  

A Word From Verywell

Itchy legs can be irritating, especially if the feeling interferes with your day-to-day life. The good news is that itchy legs are typically harmless, and for the most part, are often caused by treatable dry skin or skin conditions. Getting the proper treatment or visiting with your doctor about your symptom will get you on the road to itch-free legs.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why are my legs so itchy at night?

    There are various things that can cause itchy legs at night. Insect bites such as bed bugs, for example, could cause worsened itchiness during the nighttime hours. That being said, restless leg syndrome is often the culprit behind nighttime itchiness.

  • Does poor circulation cause itchy legs?

    Poor circulation occurs when the body isn’t circulating blood as it should. Although itching isn’t a typical symptom of poor circulation, it can be. Poor circulation often occurs in people who have diabetes, which is a condition that can drive the symptom of itchy legs.   

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Angelica Bottaro
Angelica Bottaro is a professional freelance writer with over 5 years of experience. She has been educated in both psychology and journalism, and her dual education has given her the research and writing skills needed to deliver sound and engaging content in the health space.