Itchy Legs When You Walk or Exercise

Walking up stairs
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Do you get itchy legs when you walk or exercise? This is a symptom that can drive some people crazy, and disrupt their exercise sessions.

Itchy Legs with Exercise - You are Not Alone

I have had a a few walkers ask me about itchy legs. When they walked, their legs became so itchy they just had to stop. Sometimes walking and jogging were the only exercises that produced this condition, they were fine with gym exercise and many sports.

Symptoms of Itchy Legs: The sufferers report Itching, swelling or hives on the legs, arms, torso or neck during or after exercise. Some people even progress to having an anaphylactic reaction - passing out or closing off of the airway. When that happens, it is a life-threatening medical emergency.

Exercise Allergy #1: Cholinergic urticaria (itching)

It is the rise in body temperature that produces the itching, swelling, and small hives that some people experience. People who have this may also experience the same reaction in hot tubs, saunas. They may note that they are more likely to get the itching and hives on hot days. This rarely leads to anaphylaxis - the life-threatening drop in blood pressure that can be fatal in major allergic reactions.

Treatment for cholinergic urticaria:

  • Antihistamines
  • Avoid exercising on warm or humid days
  • Reduce the intensity of your workout
  • Stop exercising at the first sign of flushing, itchy skin or hives.

    Exercise Allergy #2: Exercise-induced anaphylaxis

    This life-threatening allergic reaction is usually seen when the victim is allergic to certain foods or medications and works out after partaking of the offending item. Shellfish, wheat, hazelnuts, grapes, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, antibiotics, cold medications and herbal supplements can be the culprits.

    The symptoms of the attack are fatigue, warmth, itching, redness of the skin, then large hives, collapse and unconsciousness. They may have swelling of the throat, difficulty breathing, choking, nausea and vomiting.

    Treatment for Exercise-induced Anaphylaxis:

    • Carry and know how to use a self-injectable epinephrine kit.
    • Avoid the triggering food or medication on the day before and day of your exercise.
    • Wear a medic-alert bracelet describing your condition and what you are sensitive to.
    • Walk with someone who knows about your condition and is prepared to call for emergency assistance.

    Allergy #3: Itchy Pants Syndrome

    Symptoms: Certain pairs of pants make your legs feel itchy, stinging, and irritated, especially in the thighs. The pants are usually of fabric other than cotton. The cause is thought to be the fabric finishes or formaldehyde that remains in the cloth, but laboratory tests don't bear this out. Still, some people have itchy legs wearing anything other than 100% plain cotton denim.

    Treatment for Itchy Pants Syndrome:

    • Wear pre-washed, cotton-only non-designer blue jeans.
    • Switch to wearing skirts. Even if you are a man, look into wearing a kilt.
    • Over-the-counter topical anti-itch medications.

    Shoe and Sock Allergies

    If your legs are fine but you are having itching at your ankles and feet, you may be allergic to your shoes and socks. A sock allergy is probably similar to itchy pants, you are reacting to the sock fabric. But shoe allergies can come from many different glues, dyes and leather tanning agents.

    Weird Walking Problems and Sensitive Subjects

    What other weird or embarrassing walking problems do you have?


    Perkins DN, Keith PK. Food- and Exercise-Induced Anaphylaxis: Importance of History in the Diagnosis. Ann Allergy Asthma Immnuol. 2002;89:15-23.

    Dice, JP. Physical Urticaria. Immunol Allergy Clin N Am. 2004;24:225-246.

    Michael P. Sheehan, "Allergic Contact Dermatitis of the Foot", The Dermatologist, Volume 20 - Issue 11 - November 2012.

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