In previous posts we discussed common symptoms of varicose veins – from pain and heaviness, to swelling and discolouration. However, one lesser known side-effect to vein disease is itchiness. Patients often complain of the skin around the damaged vein feels irritated and itchy. This due to a condition called Varicose Eczema, or Stasis Dermatitis.

How can varicose veins be itchy?

First, it’s handy to understand how varicose veins develop (see: varicose vein causes).

The veins in your legs are imperative for pushing pumped blood back up to the heart, however sometimes the vein valves or walls can become damaged. When blood is not able to flow back up to the heart, it begins to reflux or pool, forming twisted, enlarged vessels you know as varicose veins.

If varicose veins develop, there is a chance that red blood cells which have leaked from the swollen veins will disintegrate. Depositing haemoglobin and other substances into muscle tissue and skin. The result is the skin covering the swollen veins can become irritated and inflamed. This leads to symptoms that start with itching but can quickly progress to tenderness or pain.

If untreated, varicose veins can lead to restless leg syndrome or cramping, the development of skin ulcers or thrombosis (blood clots) as well as darkening of the skin around the veins which is known as Varicose Eczema or Stasis Dermatitis.

What is varicose eczema?

Varicose eczema is a skin condition that initially causes your skin on the lower legs to become pale red, and then darker red, often becoming stained brown. With varicose eczema the skin on your lower legs also gets slightly thicker and bumpy. 

Common symptoms of varicose eczema are:

  • The skin, particularly around your ankle, may feel hard or tight. And can be slightly shiny (which is why some people mistake varicose eczema for an infection).
  • Although your legs may feel warm, the skin feels cool to the touch. 
  • Flaky or scaly looking skin.
  • Discolouration to a red, ‘rusty’ or brown colour.
  • You can get little raised bumpy ‘blisters’ in the skin. Sometimes these are hard; other times they might leak a drop of clear fluid if you press them.
  • Generally the irritation will starts in the skin around the inside of your calf, above your ankle.
  • Some skin may ‘break down’ into an ulcer.

How to treat varicose eczema

  • Moisturize: Apply at least twice a day to calm the irritated skin. It’s recommended to try something with a thick consistency, which is natural and free from perfumes. 
  • Avoid scratching:  It sounds counterproductive but scratching the itchy areas can often worsen the itch. Scratching can lead to further trauma in the vein and more histamine produced by the body.  Scratching can also cause cuts that may lead to an infection, or an ulcer which forms due to the excess swelling and fluid.
  • Topical steroid cream:  Hydrocortisone cream can be purchased over the counter. It is a steroid cream that helps to reduce skin inflammation.
  • Anti-itch creams:  Other anti-itch creams, like Calamine lotion or Stop-Itch that can be used to help with itch.
  • Antihistamines:  This medication helps to reduce the histamine, thereby reducing the itch.
  • Compression stockings: Wearing compression stockings can also help by improving circulation in the legs.
  • Keep moving: Light exercise, such as walking keeps the circulation in your legs moving. 

Varicose eczema can be treated similarly to other common skin conditions. The treatments listed below are at best temporary solutions, and only soothe the discomfort, rather than treating the root of the problem.

Seek expert advice

The doctors at The Vein Institute specialise in varicose vein treatment. We offer patients a comprehensive treatment program to treat varicose veins, with non-surgical laser treatment techniques. The benefits of laser treatment to patients are;

  • Walk-in walk-out treatment
  • 98% success rate
  • Extremely effective
  • Can be performed at a clinic (no hospitalisation)
  • No general anaesthetic
  • Medicare rebates apply
  • No downtime or time away from work
  • To book a consultation and discuss our treatment program, call 1300 535 017. Or, complete the form below to receive a call back from one of The Vein Institute team.

About Dr Zil Yassine

Dr Zil Yassine (BA MBBS Uni. NSW, MA Harvard, Fellow (College of Phlebology UK) specialises in the non surgical treatment of varicose veins. He completed training as a Specialist General Practitioner (FRACGP 2014) in Sydney before successfully completing the American Board of Venous and Lymphatic Medicine examinations that same year. He has been a doctor for over 10 years and has performed thousands of venous interventions and gives talks on vein treatments at vascular surgeon conferences. Dr Yassine also holds the following degrees: Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Surgery (UNSW), Masters of Arts (Harvard University), Diploma of Diagnostic Ultrasound in Phlebology (ACP).

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