Dry, scaly, itchy skin is a potential symptom of varicose veins. Treating your varicose veins can keep your skin clear, too.

Varicose veins are often accompanied by a number of unpleasant side effects. Pain and swelling in the lower legs and ankles are the most common, but another potential reaction to enlarged, twisted veins is a skin condition known as varicose eczema. 

Also termed stasis eczema or gravitational eczema, varicose eczema is marked by scaly, dry patches of skin, discoloration (typically red or brown), and severe itching. Left untreated, varicose eczema could progress to an open, slow-healing ulcer and an infection. If you already have varicose veins, you must watch your skin for any changes that may indicate varicose eczema and get treatment.

Who’s at Risk for Varicose Eczema

Many of the same factors that put people at risk for varicose veins increase their chances of varicose eczema, as well; any condition that weakens your veins could lead to varicose eczema. Those include excess weight that strains the veins, high blood pressure, a previous incident of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot in the legs, or phlebitis, an inflammation of the vein wall. 

Much like varicose veins, varicose eczema is most commonly seen in older adults whose veins have lost their elasticity. One study from the U.K. estimated 20 percent of people over the age of 70 suffer from varicose eczema. Another U.K.-based study estimated between 3 percent and 6 percent of people with varicose veins developed ulcers in their lifetimes.

Having varicose veins sets off a chain reaction that could very well lead to varicose eczema. When your veins swell with excess blood because the valves in the veins no longer push blood back to the heart, the veins walls are unable to contain the excess blood. Blood cells and fluid then seep into the surrounding skin tissue. To combat what it thinks are harmful substances invading the body, your immune system sends out the chemical histamine, which only serves to further dilate the veins and inflame your skin, thereby leading to a noticeable uptick in symptoms and irritation.

Treating Varicose Eczema

If you think you may have varicose eczema, see a vein specialist who can properly diagnose what may be causing your dry, itchy, irritated skin. Treatments range from at-home remedies and prescribed medication to same-day, minimally invasive surgery.

Antihistamine Creams. Over the counter anti-itch creams can help alleviate itchy symptoms temporarily, but will not cure the underlying cause; varicose veins.

Elevate Your Legs. Raising your legs above your heart forces the blood to flow upward and not get trapped within the vein. Do this for 15 minutes every two hours to encourage good circulation, which allows blood to flow smoothly without leaking into the surrounding skin.

Moisturize. To prevent excessive dryness, apply a moisturizer or emollient to your skin. Choose one without any irritating fragrance, like a petroleum jelly. Check with your doctor to ensure the moisturizer you choose will be right for your skin and condition.

Medication. Topical steroid creams can tamp down the inflammation and redness. Available with a prescription, steroid creams should only be used for a short period of time; otherwise, there could be unwanted side effects, including hair growth and acne. If the eczema has advanced to an open sore, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat an infection.

Compression Therapy. Compression stockings gently squeeze the veins, giving them an extra boost to circulate blood. Depending upon the severity of your varicose veins and general health, you can purchase a lower-strength pair in a drugstore or get a prescription for a higher compression level from your doctor.

Varicose Vein Surgery. If it’s determined varicose veins are the cause of your varicose eczema, you can discuss one of many minimally invasive surgical procedures that permanently eliminate varicose veins. Once the damaged vein is removed, your skin inflammation will clear up.

Diet and Exercise. To maintain good vein health and prevent varicose veins, you should exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet. A sedentary lifestyle weakens your veins, leading to impaired circulation. Workouts that strengthen the calf muscles are particularly effective. When preparing your meals, choose items that boost the immune system and reduce inflammation such as ginger, vitamin C, and brightly colored vegetables, and avoid fatty, sugary, and highly caffeinated foods and drinks that stress the veins.

Come Visit the Vein Specialists

VEINatlanta serves the Atlanta area from three clinics. If you’re tired of aching, swollen legs due to varicose veins, make an appointment today. Our specialists will answer your questions and find the right treatment for your individual needs and preferences.