Varicose eczema is not as common as other kinds of eczema, but does it behave in a similar way and make skin itchy?
Also known as venous, gravitational or stasis eczema, varicose eczema is a skin condition that happens as a result of a problem with the veins of the legs. Blood pools in the lower leg, particularly around the ankle and shin, and triggers an immune system response.
The result is skin that can feel tight and swollen; it can become fragile and easily damaged, as well as discoloured and thickened in some places.
Why is varicose eczema itchy?
Let’s look at what causes itch in the first place.
The culprit is histamine. This substance is produced by the body in response to a perceived threat. It’s an action which is there to protect the body, although frequent or excess histamine release can end up causing problems.
Histamine, released by mast cells, is there to stimulate local nerves which in turn let the brain know there’s something that needs attention. That’s fine when the trigger is something external or dangerous - like a stinging insect, for example - but not so helpful when the trigger is something internal that you can’t do anything about.
It’s an action which is there to protect the body, although frequent or excess histamine release can end up causing problems, which is what happens with different kinds of eczema. It’s as if the body has an overly sensitive alarm system which is firing off all the time, whether anything is attacking or not!
And worse, the more you itch, the more histamine is released. It’s a vicious circle of itchiness!
In the case of varicose eczema, histamine is released as part of the body’s inflammatory response to the pooled blood, which leaks into the surrounding tissue and is treated by the body as if it’s an invader.
Histamine and inflammation
In more serious cases of varicose eczema, the inflammation causes damage to the skin, and this damage to the skin barrier function can allow external irritants (dust, pollen, pet hair, detergents) to enter the bloodstream. These invaders in turn cause more histamine release and more itching.
So the answer is that yes, in some cases, varicose eczema can cause itchiness which ranges from mild to really quite severe. That’s why steroid creams or antihistamines are often prescribed to dampen down the immune system response.
How to manage the itch
Other than antihistamines, you can also keep the skin in as healthy a condition as possible, both to reduce the risk of external irritants causing more itchiness, and to allow the skin to repair itself.
A good barrier cream or salve, like Balmonds Skin Salvation, will provide the skin with the nutrients and moisture needed to support its cycle of regeneration, and form a protective barrier against moisture loss and irritants.
For more information about the condition and how to manage it, see our article What’s the Best Cream For Varicose Eczema?
Recommended products for those prone to varicose eczema:
Balmonds Skin Salvation with hemp and beeswax (from £7.99 for 30ml): a rich, hydrating balm for really sore or open patches of eczema.
Balmonds Daily Moisturising Cream with shea butter & hemp (from £13.99 for 100ml): a gentle unfragranced cream for maintaining dry skin in soft, hydrated condition.
Balmonds Cooling Cream with menthol, aloe vera and lavender (£19 for 100ml): a lighter lotion than our Daily Moisturising Cream, with soothing botanicals to calm down hot, scaly, itchy but unbroken skin.
If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.