When there is tissue damage or any risk of injury to the skin, it is perceived in various different types of sensations. It can be perceived either as pain, itching or skin feels like it’s burning. The sensations are indications for us to take action against the agent which is causing the harm. There can be situations where in the sensations in the skin occur without any underlying cause or reason. Burning can be caused due to an injury, allergy, drug reaction, nerve disorder, poisoning or disease.
Why Does My Skin Feel Like It’s Burning?
Burning sensation on the skin can be caused by various conditions; some are light and may go away on their own, while some others may be rather serious and need medical care.
When a person is anxious, it leads to sensitive skin. This results in the skin becoming easily affected with breakout of rashes and itching. These reactions can be without any significant cause too. Anxiety also leads to stress which acts as a trigger for existing skin ailments like psoriasis, herpes and eczema. In these conditions skin feels like it’s burning.
2. Drugs and Toxins
Burning sensation in the skin can be caused due to drugs and toxins, and this can be seen with or without other symptoms. When such symptoms due to pharmaceuticals are seen, it is called as dermatitis medicamentosa or drug eruptions. Exposure to illicit drugs can cause the receptors and nerves to get irritated, changes in the brain chemistry, along with burning sensation of the skin.
Poison, consumed intentionally or accidentally can cause burning sensation of skin. These poisons or toxins can be naturally occurring or synthetic. Arsenic poisoning, which is used widely in intentional poisoning can cause burning in skin.
Your skin feels like it’s burning when it has undergone trauma due to the following – radiation, insect bite, strong sunlight, burns caused by heat or chemicals, strong injury or impact due to blunt force. The skin will feel red, hot and will be swollen due to inflammation.
When you are exposed to allergens, the skin feels like it’s burning, as an allergic reaction. It is not always easy to identify the allergen, while sometimes it’s obvious, like latex. In case of allergic contact dermatitis, the area of exposure to the allergen has burning sensation. However, in atopic dermatitis, burning is felt even without direct contact with allergen. Burning sensation is also experienced when there is a situation of anaphylaxis.
5. Plants (Herbs)
Some plants or herbs have chemicals in them that can cause skin to feel like its burning, when coming in contact with the skin. It can cause swelling, redness and itching. Examples are stinging nettles, poison ivy. Capsaicin from chili peppers is used in creams to reduce pain in conditions like psoriasis, however, when undiluted or in concentrated form, it can cause skin to burn. Similarly, mustard oil can also cause burning when undiluted.
6. Skin Diseases
In most of the skin diseases, skin feels like it’s burning. Itching, however, is the primary symptom, due to which a person ends up scratching. This leads to micro-tears in the skin and thus burning sensation. Conditions are contact dermatitis, eczema, urticaria and psoriasis. So the burning sensation is not due to the disease, but is a secondary reaction caused due to the scratching. The micro tears in the skin can get infected by bacteria and lead to formation of pustules and have oozing of discharge.
7. Chemical/Sun Exposure
When the body is exposed to strong or excessive amount of sunlight, it can damage the top or superficial layer of the skin. It causes the skin to dry and have a burning sensation. Some chemical present in cosmetics as well as skin care products can cause the top layer of skin to peel off. This makes the skin more sensitive towards environmental factors, as well as heat, which leads to tingling and burning sensation.
8. Cutaneous Decompression Sickness
In this condition, also known as skin bends, the skin feels like it’s burning, along with becoming red, itching , swelling and gets a marbled appearance. Skin bends are not commonly seen, but can be experienced after diving. The gases in the blood get trapped and deposited in the capillaries that get bent. It can also be caused by stings or bites of aquatic animals which might be toxic.
9. Peripheral Neuropathy
When the nerves get damaged, irritated it leads to a burning sensation of the skin. Nerve disorders are referred to as neuropathy, and when these nerves are located outside the brain and spinal cord, it is called as peripheral neuropathy. It can occur due to traumatic or non-traumatic inflammation, infection, nerve tumors, and metabolic, toxic or hereditary factors.
It can be caused due to pinching of nerves or diabetic neuropathy. When sensory nerves are affected it can cause tingling, prickling and numbness along with burning sensation. When motor fibers are involved it can lead to muscle weakness or paralysis.
10. Diabetic Neuropathy
Diabetes is caused due to factors like resistance to insulin or insulin deficiency. It is a chronic metabolic condition. Constantly elevated blood sugar levels cause damage to the nerves in various parts of the body. This leads to burning sensation of the skin and tingling. Diabetic neuropathy is an irreversible process and if it is not controlled initially, it can have catastrophic effects.
When the skin feels like it’s burning, it could be a symptom of underlying conditions like stroke or diabetic neuropathy. As the largest organ of the body, skin can have cosmetic disorders or systemic issues. Any changes in the skin should not be ignored. If there is any sign of rash, persistent itching, discoloration or bumps on the skin, a dermatologist should be consulted immediately.