Is Itching a Symptom of Diabetes?

Dr. Abhijit Bhograj
MBBS, MD, DM (Endocrinology)

Diabetes can affect every part of the body, including the skin. Itchy skin is a common symptom seen in people with diabetes.

A person might experience frequent itching, but the critical factor is the duration a person has had these complaints.

The symptoms vary and depend on the cause, which could be acute (a few days) or chronic (long period).

Let’s look at some of the common chronic causes for this symptom:

  • Itching can be a result of nerve fiber damage in the outer layers of skin, a condition called diabetic polyneuropathy or peripheral neuropathy.
  • These are usual complications of diabetes that develop when glucose levels are elevated for a prolonged duration of time, which could be at multiple small time durations in a day (example: high sugar exposure at meal times only or high throughout the day).
  • It leads to damage in nerve fibers surrounding the hands and, most often, at the bottom of the feet. Before this type of nerve damage starts, it can be associated with high inflammatory response levels, which can also contribute to the problem.
  • Persistent itching among diabetic patients indicates the risk of nerve damage due to increased cytokine levels, which is common in people in the advanced stage of neuropathy.
  • In peripheral neuropathy, patients may also experience a loss of sensation, usually in the feet or hands. A tingling sensation might accompany these symptoms.
  • Itching is also common if the skin becomes dry due to the loss of sweating response in advanced stages of diabetes.

If the itching is a symptom of short duration or an acute symptom, it is usually seen as an adverse side effect of new diabetes medication.

  • Sometimes an underlying skin condition can cause itching. People with diabetes can get certain skin conditions and infections more quickly than people who do not have diabetes. These include bacterial infections and fungal infections.

Itching is a prominent symptom and not something to ignore. The simple way to address this is to keep your blood glucose level in control and not ignore it.