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Runner’s itch: what it is and how to deal

Everything you need to know about the irritating skin condition

Have you ever experienced an irritating, itchy sensation on your legs or stomach while you’re out for a run? If you have, you’re not alone. Runner’s itch is fairly common, particularly among beginner runners, and while it’s typically not something to worry about, it can take some of the enjoyment out of running. Here’s everything you need to know about the annoying condition, including what causes it and how to treat it.

 

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What causes runner’s itch?

There are several potential causes of runner’s itch, the most common being increased blood flow. If you’re new to running or getting back into it after a prolonged period of time off, returning to a regular running routine can lead to itchiness. This is because running increased your heart rate and blood flow to your muscles, which cause your capillaries and arteries to expand. This expansion stimulates your nerve cells, which can make your skin feel itchy. Additionally, a 2017 review found that exercise can sometimes trigger a histamine release (histamines are compounds released by your cells in response to injury and in allergic reactions), which can cause your blood vessels to expand, contributing to the itchiness.

You may be even more prone to runner’s itch if you already have sensitive skin, and if you have any sensitivities or allergies to certain laundry detergents, fabric softeners or clothing materials. Sweating while exercising can worsen irritation, especially if you also have dry skin.

What can you do about it?

The good news is that runner’s itch usually goes away as you continue to run regularly, so while it can be uncomfortable, if you can tough it out for a couple of weeks, you’ll probably be in the clear. In the meantime, there are a few things you can do to reduce the itching and redness:

  • When you come in from your run, take a warm bath with oatmeal, Epsom salts or baking soda
  • Apply aloe vera gel, hydrocortisone cream or a cold compress to the itchy areas
  • Wear compression socks to improve circulation while you run
  • If you have sensitive skin, wear clothing made with moisture-wicking fabric, use laundry detergent made for sensitive skin and apply moisturizer before you run.

Is runner’s itch ever dangerous?

Runner’s itch is not usually something to worry about, but what can be concerning is if you have another condition that you mistake for runner’s itch. This could include exercise-induced urticaria, which is an allergic response that occurs during exercise. If you have a severe case of runner’s itch that doesn’t subside with treatment, or your itchiness is accompanied by other symptoms like dizziness, lightheadedness, difficulty breathing or painful hives that don’t go away, talk to your doctor. They will be able to perform allergy and exercise tests to determine the cause.

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