People with diabetes often experience itchy skin, which can lead to complications and discomfort. Also, this might be the first symptom that diabetics may experience. Understanding the relationship between diabetes and itching is crucial for effective management and relief. We spoke to Dr Hari Kishan Boorugu, Consultant Physician and Diabetologist, Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad, who explained the connection between diabetes and itching and how to combat it.
According to the study by the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI), it was revealed that itching occurred with relative frequency, affecting approximately 36% of subjects and leading to substantial impairment in their quality of life. The primary cause of itch in this subject group stems from inadequate diabetes control, resulting in subsequent skin dryness and diabetic polyneuropathy.
As per the findings of the Indian Journal of Ophthalmology, the diabetic population in India stood at 77 million in 2019, with projections indicating a surge to over 134 million by 2045. Alarmingly, 57% of these cases remain undiagnosed. By 2035, it is estimated that diabetes will contribute to approximately 592 million deaths worldwide.
Understanding Pruritus in Diabetes
“Pruritus, the medical term for itching, is a common skin condition observed in diabetic patients. Itching can stem from various causes, including infections, metabolic diseases, cancers, autoimmune disorders, and genetic conditions”, said Dr Boorugu.
Diabetes amplifies the risk of certain conditions, such as fungal infections, and exacerbates itching. Moreover, diabetes itself can lead to pruritus due to impaired skin elasticity and decreased sebaceous gland activity.
Factors Contributing to Itching in Diabetic Patients
Dr Boorugu highlighted, “Several studies have established a connection between elevated blood glucose levels and the development and severity of pruritus in diabetic individuals. Also, medications used to manage diabetes and its comorbidities, such as hypertension, and heart, and kidney conditions, may induce itching. Dry skin, prevalent among diabetic patients, is a common cause of pruritus.”
Diagnosis and Treatment Approach
Diabetic patients experiencing pruritus require thorough evaluation to determine the underlying cause of itching. This involves a detailed medical history to identify allergens, and skin irritants, clinical examinations, and necessary investigations.
“Uncontrolled diabetes poses a heightened risk of acquiring conditions like scabies, characterised by intense pruritus. Chronic dermatitis, venous stasis, and fungal infections are other common causes of pruritus in diabetic patients”, added Dr Boorugu.
Initial treatment focuses on providing symptomatic relief from itching, while subsequent interventions target the root cause. Dr Boorugu said, “Achieving good sugar control is essential for alleviating itching symptoms. Symptomatic measures include the use of topical emollients for dry skin, along with topical lotions and antihistaminic drugs to alleviate discomfort.”
You should also refrain from scratching dry or itchy areas as this can create openings for infections to develop. Keep your skin moisturised to prevent chapping, particularly during cold or windy conditions, as stated by the American Diabetes Association.
Dr Boorugu concluded, “In some cases, itching may persist intensely despite treatment efforts, requiring a multidisciplinary approach for effective management. By understanding the connection between diabetes and itching and adopting appropriate management strategies, individuals with diabetes can experience relief and improved quality of life.”[Disclaimer: This article contains information provided by a registered healthcare professional and is for informational purposes only. Hence, we advise you to consult your expert if you notice any complications in managing diabetes.]