If your ankles are red, blotchy and itchy -- you likely have contact dermatitis. Contact refers to your skin touching a substance or allergen, and dermatitis is the inflammatory response that occurs from touching that substance. These symptoms can also be caused by insect bites. Regardless of the cause, the discomfort of itchy ankles can make you miserable. If the symptoms are severe, always consult with a doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment.
Contact dermatitis develops into a rash of itchy, red skin. Red patches that resemble a burn may be visible on your ankles. A warm sensation and swelling is often present after the ankles come in contact with a substance. The skin on your ankles may blister, ooze and have a dry crust-like appearance. If insect bites are present on your ankles, the area affected will be red, itchy and have bumps that vary in size.
Contact dermatitis can be caused by an irritant or an allergen. The appearance of the two types is similar, but the symptoms of irritant contact dermatitis usually become apparent shortly after exposure, while an allergen may take up to 10 days for the initial reaction. However, once you're exposed to an allergen, even brief contact with a small amount in the future will cause an allergic reaction within 24 to 48 hours. Since the skin affected is on your ankles, a common allergic reaction is from poison ivy. However, your laundry detergent, sunscreen, topical medications and even the fabric of your clothing can cause allergic contact dermatitis. Irritants that may be to blame for your itchy ankles are soaps, housecleaning chemicals and ankle bracelets. If you scratch insect bites, the skin can become red and inflamed.
Contact dermatitis usually clears on its own within two to four weeks, but there are steps you can take to relieve the itching in the meantime. Over-the-counter creams containing at least 1 percent hydrocortisone and cold compresses can relieve itching on your ankles. Calamine lotion and oral antihistamines also help with itching. If you experience a severe reaction from an allergen or irritant, consult with your physician, since corticosteroids may be necessary to reduce inflammation. Soak your feet in a tub of cool water that has baking soda sprinkled in the water.
The best way to prevent contact dermatitis and insect bites is to avoid triggers. If you're in an area with poison ivy or other plants that cause an allergic reaction, wear jeans and foot gear that protects your ankles. If you come in contact with an irritant or allergen, wash your skin with mild soap and water as soon as possible. Wash your laundry in mild, unscented detergent. Where plants are thick, there are insects present, so wear insect repellent containing deet to prevent bites.