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Burning Sensation on the Skin

Burning Sensation on the Skin

A burning sensation on the skin may or may not be accompanied by changes in the color or texture of the skin. The following write-up provides information on the contributing factors for this sensation.
Bidisha Mukherjee
Last Updated: Apr 13, 2018
Our skin, which is a part of the integumentary system, is the largest organ of the human body. It performs various functions that are essential for proper functioning of the body. The skin contains several sensory receptors that respond to physical stimuli. Nociceptors, thermoreceptors, photoreceptors, and chemoreceptors are a few types of sensory receptors that respond to pain, changes in temperature, light, and chemicals respectively. Though the skin serves as a protective physical barrier, and enables our body to sense and respond appropriately to different types of physical stimuli, it is susceptible to damage due to the exposure to the irritants and pathogens that are present in the environment.

Prolonged exposure to the sun is often the main reason behind skin damage, which in turn, may cause abnormal sensations on the skin. However, abnormal sensations such as tingling, burning, or itching could be caused by skin conditions or other ailments.

Contributing Factors for a Burning Sensation

Though the color and texture of the skin usually changes in case of rashes, blisters, or boils, a burning sensation may sometimes be experienced around the rash. In case of rashes, the stinging sensation is usually localized to the skin around the rash. Abnormal sensations on the skin could also be associated with the following conditions.

◘ Paresthesia
The term 'paresthesia' refers to an abnormal sensation on the skin. It may manifest as a partial or complete loss of sensation (numbness), tingling, prickling, or a burning sensation on the skin. Transient paresthesia could occur due to the compression of a nerve. Nerve damage due to an injury, poor blood circulation, or medical conditions such as diabetic neuropathy or peripheral vascular disease could lead to chronic paresthesia. The symptoms are usually felt along the course or the sensory path of the nerve.

If a pinched nerve is causing pain or a burning sensation, the use of painkillers or corticosteroids may be recommended. Numbness or tingling sensation would resolve once the underlying medical condition is treated with drug therapy or other treatment options.

◘ Poor Blood Circulation
Blood vessels perform the vital function of supplying oxygenated blood to various parts of the body. If these blood vessels harden or become constricted, the flow of blood would be adversely affected. Peripheral vascular disease is a medical condition that is characterized by narrowing of the blood vessels. This affects the normal flow of blood to various parts of the body. This may cause numbness or a burning pain, particularly in the extremities of the body.

Diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and elevated cholesterol levels can put a person at a risk of developing peripheral vascular disease, which in turn, could affect the blood circulation. Medical assistance must be sought to treat these conditions. Poor dietary habits and lack of physical activity could have an adverse effect on blood circulation, which is why, the affected individuals need to make the right lifestyle choices.

◘ Shingles
Shingles, which is also referred to as herpes zoster, is caused by varicella zoster virus, which is the virus that causes chickenpox. Once a person gets chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in the nerve tissues within the body for several years. It can get activated due to stress. When it gets activated, an intense burning or tingling sensation is felt at the affected region of the nerve.

The treatment of shingles involves the use of antiviral drugs such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir. Topical application of antibiotics and the use of painkillers is also recommended. In case of postherpetic neuralgia, which is a complication wherein pain persists for months or years after the occurrence of shingles, the use of antidepressants, painkillers, and anticonvulsants is recommended.

◘ Diabetic Neuropathy
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that is characterized by high glucose levels in the blood. It can give rise to symptoms such as frequent urination, unexpected weight loss or weight gain, excessive thirst, blurred vision, etc. If left untreated, diabetes could even lead to diabetic neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy is a complication of diabetes. Tingling or a burning sensation in the arms and legs is one of the early signs of nerve damage that is observed in diabetics affected by neuropathy.

The treatment involves lowering the blood sugar levels. The use of insulin injections is recommended for people affected by type 1 diabetes. Drug therapy coupled with lifestyle changes can help in lowering blood sugar levels for those affected by type 2 diabetes. At times, insulin therapy may also be recommended.

◘ Skin Conditions
There are several types of skin disorders that can cause a burning sensation on the skin. These include rosacea, psoriasis, eczema, etc. Rosacea is a chronic skin condition that is characterized by facial redness, the development of small red bumps or pustules, or a stinging sensation. Inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema could also cause a burning sensation. While psoriasis causes itchy, red patches that are covered with silvery scales, eczema is characterized by patches of dry, itchy skin.

The treatment would vary, depending on the underlying skin condition. However, the use of oral steroids or topical application of corticosteroids is usually suggested. Application of medicated creams, ointments, and emollients would also prove beneficial. Refrain from scratching over the affected area as that could cause a secondary bacterial infection.

◘ Other Causes
The epidermis, which is the outer layer of the skin, could get affected due to a wide range of reasons. Abnormal sensations on the skin could occur if the skin comes in contact with harsh chemicals that are present in cosmetic products. Using hot water while bathing could also cause to skin to lose its natural oils or moisture. It may even cause burns. Prolonged exposure to the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun could even cause sunburn.

Avoidance of triggers is the best way to prevent allergic reactions or contact dermatitis. If your skin is very sensitive, it would be best to use hypoallergenic products. You must also protect your skin from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. Wear broad-rimmed hats or apply a sunscreen with a high SPF while stepping outdoors.

Skin conditions are not only a cause of cosmetic concern, the abnormal sensations that may be experienced by the affected individual can also cause discomfort. Do consult a dermatologist if you develop a rash that is accompanied by pain, itching, or a burning sensation. Since abnormal sensations on the skin could also be associated with other conditions, medical assistance must be sought if the sensation persists, and there are no visible changes in the color or texture of the skin.

Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.