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, Venous Eczema, or Stasis Dermatitis. Learn about the symptoms of varicose eczema and how to treat itchy varicose veins.
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, Venous Dermatitis or Stasis Dermatitis.
What is Stasis Dermatitis, or Venous Eczema?
There are different types of eczema. Stasis Dermatitis 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 venous 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.
- Red spots on legs – 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 venous eczema:
If the itchiness is particularly bothersome, your doctor may prescribe a topical steroid cream or ointment for your skin. Topical steroids work by reducing the immediate inflammation while the cream base may have other soothing ingredients to ease the discomfort from dryness.
Topical steroids can be applied once or twice a day (your doctor will advise you accordingly). If you’re using a steroid ointment, massage a small amount in a thin layer over the inflamed area. Creams, on the other hand, can be applied more liberally – but always check with your doctor about the proper dosage.
Alternatively, some herbal remedies have been shown to be effective at easing the symptoms of venous eczema. Horse chestnut extract, when taken internally as a supplement, appears to have some benefits for patients with venous disease.
Here are some other ways you can find relief from itchy varicose veins:
- 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.
- Anti-itch creams: Other anti-itch creams (other than topical steroids, mentioned above), 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.
Get treatment for varicose veins and venous eczema
If you suffer from venous eczema, or venous dermatitis, chances are you may also have varicose veins. Getting them medically treated can often result in improvement in your symptoms. We recommend seeking the opinion of an experienced phlebologist to determine which treatment method is best for you.
Some possible non-surgical varicose veins treatments include:
- Endovenous Laser Ablation (EVLT)
- Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)
- Medical Superglue VenaSeal
Endovenous Laser Ablation is one of the most common treatment options for varicose veins. Learn more here: 10 Key Facts about EVLA.
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