Itching following exercise can be uncomfortable or even painful, especially if the symptoms linger long after your workout ends. Often easy to prevent, itching can also arise from serious medical conditions. If itching persists, or if other symptoms develop, consult your doctor.
Exercise-induced itching varies in severity from a mild annoyance to extreme pain. It can be accompanied by a variety of symptoms -- vomiting, difficulty swallowing, swelling in the mouth, blister-like bumps, loss of consciousness, diarrhea, cramping, a prickling sensation and a severe drop in blood pressure. Itching after exercise can occur anywhere on the body including the scalp, face, neck, shoulders, armpits, groin, elbow creases and chest.
Exercise increases the flow of blood to your skin, and this can result in itchiness. Sweat, dehydration, wearing tight clothing that prevents your skin from breathing and washing your workout attire in harsh detergents can cause itching. Intense exercise can also cause clogging of your sweat glands, resulting in an itchy heat rash.
Exercise After Prolonged Inactivity
During prolonged periods of inactivity, the tiny capillaries in your legs decrease in size. If you make a significant increase in your exercise level, the capillaries begin to expand to accommodate the increased blood flow. As the capillaries expand, nerves send signals to the brain, which can be interpreted as itching. As you acquire greater fitness, the itching will stop.
Itching may result from an allergic reaction, which is more likely if you exercise within five hours of eating. Increased blood flow brought on by exercise can carry allergens throughout your body quickly. Medical conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, liver disease, nerve disorders and iron deficiency anemia can also trigger itching after exercise.
Prevention and Treatment
Reduce sweating by running a fan or air conditioner while you exercise. Wear lightweight clothing to help keep your skin cool. When itching does occur, apply menthol, calamine, camphor or anhydrous lanolin to the affected areas. For chronic itching after exercise, reduce the duration or intensity of your workout. If you tend to develop an allergic reaction while exercising, consult with your medical doctor about self-injectable epinephrine or other medication to reduce a histamine reaction.
Avoid scratching itchy skin, because this can aggravate symptoms and cause infected pustules to develop. Trim your nails, wear gloves or apply a wet compress to your skin to keep from scratching. Seek medical attention if itching is accompanied by head pain, dizziness, a rapid pulse or low blood pressure. These could be symptoms of heat exhaustion, which can lead to serious complications such as heatstroke.