Itching During Exercise: Common Causes and Concerns

What causes your skin to itch during exercise and when you should worry

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If you're experiencing itching and skin irritation during exercise, you're not alone. Normal bodily functions during exercise cause the itching sensation, so there may not be cause for concern. For the most part, the reasons for that itching feeling during a workout, there are a few exceptions to look out for to make sure your itching is not related to a more serious condition.

Three Most Common Reasons for Itching During Exercise

Dry skin, dry weather and low humidity are the most common reasons you may have itching while exercising.

Dry, cold winter air is responsible for most of this seasonal skin irritation. This is also the easiest irritation to treat, by using a good moisturizer before exercising. And maintaining regular skin moisturizing daily.

Allergies and Itching During Exercise

Another common cause of itching is an allergic reaction to a new or different soap, lotion or detergent. If you have itching after trying a new product, simply change products to see if that solves the problem. Use a chart for personal products and try switching one at a time to pinpoint what may be causing the irritation. If you've gradually changed each of your personal products and you're still experiencing itching, the itching issue may be internal.

Similarly, in some people the itching come with hives, or urticaria, an allergic reaction that causes the release of histamines that dilate blood vessels and result in swelling and skin irritation.

Urticaria is recognized by red, itchy welts or hives on the chest. Urticaria can be triggered by sweating or extreme temperatures. Exercising in a cooler, dryer climate, or lowering your exercise intensity may reduce symptoms.

Histamine Release and Itching During Exercise 

The most recent theory of the cause of itchiness during exercise is related to the bodies release of histamine during exercise, which is a known vasodilator, that is, it causes the blood vessels to dilate or open up.

In some people, this expansion of blood vessels may be felt as an itchy irritation by the nervous system. The science of the histamine response is still growing and researchers continue to try to understand exactly how it works. Athletes get some symptom relief from taking an antihistamine before exercise to prevent this response. If you're just starting to exercise regularly or have changed your level of activity, you may have less itching as you settle into a new routine. Unless the itching is severe, you may wait it out a week or so to see if there are changes during exercise.

Itching During Exercise and Causes for Concern

Other causes of exercise itching can include reactions between exercise, some food allergies or certain medications. Antibiotics, some pain medications, and diuretics all have been known to cause itching during exercise for some people. If you experience this, tell your doctor or pharmacist about your symptoms and what medication you are taking. Sometimes they will recommend a cream or an over-the-counter anti-histamine before exercise.

Serious Symptoms to Look For

In rare cases, some people have developed exercise-induced anaphylaxis, which can be serious. If you experience serious symptoms such as hives, paired with severe itching that intensifies and leads to shortness of breath, and low blood pressure get help immediately. This is a serious reaction and if not treated can lead to shock. If you have such symptoms, it is important to tell your doctor before exercising. Symptoms are often treated with antihistamines. 


Niijima-Yaoita F1, et al, Roles of histamine in exercise-induced fatigue: favouring endurance and protecting against exhaustion. Biol Pharm Bull. 2012;35(1):91-7.

Won-Sik Shim1 and Uhtaek Ohcor. Histamine-induced itch and its relationship with pain. Mol Pain. 2008; 4: 29. Published online 2008 Jul 31. doi: 10.1186/1744-8069-4-29 PMCID: PMC2519061

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