Does Diabetes Cause Itching?

Does Diabetes Cause Itching?

Diabetes is a condition that affects millions of people worldwide, and it can cause a wide range of symptoms. One of the less well-known side effects of diabetes is itching, but this symptom can be extremely bothersome for sufferers. The link between diabetes and itching is not fully understood, but it is thought to be related to high blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels rise, they can cause inflammation and irritation in the skin. In addition, diabetes can also cause nerve damage, which can lead to itching.

Dry, itchy skin

When blood sugar is high, it can cause dehydration. This is because the kidneys try to get rid of the excess sugar through the urine (1). Unfortunately, the knock-on effect of this is dry skin, which can be very itchy. To overcome this, it is advisable to drink plenty of water to hydrate the body from the inside out. However, using a gentle moisturising balm will also help to hydrate the skin and ease the itchiness.

Skin infections

Unfortunately, people with diabetes are susceptible to skin infections. These can start due to the skin being dry, which means that there is no protection against the bacteria that cause infections (2). In addition to this, when a person with diabetes scratches their skin, it causes small cuts in the skin, which may bleed, and further increases the risk of bacteria causing infections (3). Add to this the fact that the person may also have dirty nails and it creates a perfect storm for bacteria to infect the skin. As infections tend to be itchy, this creates a vicious circle.


Eruptive xanthomatosis

Eruptive xanthomatosis is a condition that is linked to diabetes. The exact cause is unknown, but it is thought to be related to high blood sugar and low insulin. It is quite rare, but is more likely to occur if the person also has high cholesterol and high fat in the blood (4). This is because insulin is necessary to reduce blood fats, called triglycerides (5). Symptoms include the development of yellowish bumps on the skin, typically on the back, buttocks, and creases behind the knees and elbows. These bumps are caused by an accumulation of fat (4) and are often itchy, and can be painful (6).

In some cases, the bumps may rupture and leak an oily substance. Eruptive-xanthomatosis is most common in people with type 1 diabetes, but it can also occur in people with type 2 diabetes (7). Treatment typically involves improving blood sugar control. In some cases, corticosteroid creams or oral medications may be necessary to relieve symptoms. While eruptive xanthomatosis is not a serious condition, it can be uncomfortable, frustrating, and embarrassing in its appearance.

Granuloma Annulare

Granuloma annulare is an inflammation of the skin. It typically appears as a ring of small, round bumps that are red, pink, or flesh-coloured (8). The bumps may be itchy or painful, but they are not contagious. Though the exact cause of granuloma annulare is unknown, it is often linked to diabetes (9). Although rare, around half of all people with granuloma annulare also have diabetes or another form of sugar intolerance. This itchy skin condition can often happen before the person is aware that they have diabetes. It is more likely to occur in people between the ages of forty and sixty (10).

In addition, granuloma annulare has been associated with other conditions, such as thyroid disease, lymphoma, and blood cancer (9). The treatment for granuloma annulare typically involves corticosteroid injections or topical creams. For most people, the condition clears up within a few months. However, in some cases, it can last for years. If you have granuloma annulare, be sure to talk to your doctor about the best treatment options for you.

Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy

Diabetic peripheral neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that can occur in people with diabetes. It can cause several issues with the nerves, including pain, tingling, and numbness. The itchy skin is caused by nerve damage, caused by high blood sugar levels associated with the condition. When the nerves are damaged, they don't send the correct signals to the brain. This can cause the skin to become very sensitive, and the brain interprets even a light touch, such as clothing or a light breeze, as an itch. In some cases, the itchiness can be so severe that it interferes with daily activities and sleep.

Another cause of itchy skin with regard to diabetic peripheral neuropathy is cytokine production. These are substances linked to immunity, which is produced by the body in response to nerve damage (11). Diabetic peripheral neuropathy can be treated, and there are ways to manage itchiness. Therefore, if you have diabetes and are experiencing itchy skin, it is worth having a chat with your doctor.

Sadly, there is no cure for diabetic peripheral neuropathy (12). However, there are treatments available that include slowing down the progression of the symptoms, and reducing or relieving the pain for as long as possible. The most vital way to do this is by monitoring blood sugar levels meticulously, eating a healthy diet, and taking regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight. It is also important that any prescribed medication is taken regularly and on schedule. Blood pressure should also be monitored and controlled with diet and medication.

The pain caused by diabetic neuropathy can be controlled by drugs, although it is necessary to be aware that there are likely to be side effects such as feeling sleepy or dizzy. Unfortunately, diabetic neuropathy is the result of chronic diabetes, and due to nerve damage throughout the body, it can eventually lead to loss of control of the urinary tract, leading to incontinence. In addition, eating may become uncomfortable due to the stomach not being able to empty as fast as normal. This can cause nausea, indigestion, constipation, or diarrhoea. Plus, men may suffer from impotence, and both sexes can experience sexual dysfunction (13).


While there are a number of treatments available for itch relief, the best way to prevent diabetic itch is to keep blood sugar levels under control. By maintaining tight glycemic control, diabetics can help minimise the risk of developing this annoying symptom.


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Diabetes and Skin Complications

Itchy skin (pruritus)


Treatment of hypertriglyceridemia-induced acute pancreatitis with insulin

Diabetes: 12 warning signs that appear on your skin

Eruptive xanthoma associated with severe hypertriglyceridemia and poorly controlled type 1 diabetes mellitus

Granuloma annulare

Association of Granuloma Annulare With Type 2 Diabetes, Hyperlipidemia, Autoimmune Disorders, and Hematologic Malignant Neoplasms

Granuloma annulare: A rare dermatological manifestation of diabetes mellitus

Role of inflammatory cytokines in peripheral nerve injury

Diabetes-Related Neuropathy

Diabetic neuropathy