Dealing with sore or itchy skin when you have diarrhoea

Written by: Mr Jason Smith
Edited by: Cal Murphy

One of the problems with having diarrhoea is that the skin around the anus can become itchy – and even sore. As well as being uncomfortable to deal with, there’s the risk of developing an infection if it’s not managed well. To find out what you can do to avoid sore or itchy skin, we spoke to leading consultant surgeon Mr Jason Smith, who practises at The Clementine Churchill Hospital.

Why does diarrhoea lead to sore or itchy skin around the anus?

Itchy or sore skin can occur for a number of reasons.


Firstly, diarrhoea causes fluid bowel motions, which still contain digestive juices intended to break down the food in your body. Normally these would be removed before the bowel movements exit your body. When you have diarrhoea, these juices come into contact with your skin and start to irritate it.


Secondly, you probably notice that diarrhoea causes you to go to the toilet much more frequently. This means you’ll be wiping your bottom much more often, causing further damage to the skin.


Finally, in rarer cases the area can become infected, which can make the area quite painful.


Luckily, there are ways to prevent this from happening.


How to prevent itchy or sore skin when you have diarrhoea

  • Make sure you use soft or moist toilet paper when wiping. Don’t use baby wipes as they often contain alcohol and other chemicals. Never re-use toilet paper – wipe once then discard.
  • Wash the area after you’ve been to the toilet using warm water only – no chemicals. Use the shower attachment, or a small jug over the edge of a bath. A bidet is the best thing for this situation but of course not many of us have one!
  • Dry the area carefully, again using soft toilet paper, a towel, or even a hairdryer.
  • Avoid using creams, soap or talcum powder on the area. If you do use cream for sore skin, use a simple cream such as castor oil or Vaseline – and use a small amount.
  • Wear cotton underwear and avoid clothes which are too tight!
  • It can help to avoid certain foods, such as citrus fruits, which can make soreness worse
  • Finally, drink plenty of water!


How to treat itchy or sore skin

The tips above are also useful for treating skin that’s already itchy. To maximise comfort, use damp toilet paper and dry the area gently with a hair dryer. Try not to scratch the area – this will only make things worse!

Cream can help with sore skin. You can ask a nurse at your local pharmacy for advice, or try castor oil or Vaseline.


Finally, if you have had sore skin for a long time, you should seek medical help. They will need to treat any infection and may also be able to prescribe medication or other products to treat the soreness.


Diarrhoea is uncomfortable on its own but sore skin can make things much worse. However, with the help of the advice above you should be able to minimise any soreness or itchiness involved, and prevent yourself from developing an infection.


If you would like to book a consultation with Mr Jason Smith, visit his Top Doctors profile and check his availability.


By Mr Jason Smith

Mr Jason Smith is a leading consultant surgeon based in London with a special interest in general, colorectal and laparoscopic procedures. He offers expertise in hernia, gallstone and anal fistula treatments, alongside endoscopy procedures and bowel and haemorrhoid surgery. He privately practices at BMI The Clementine Churchill Hospital and BMI Syon Clinic. Mr Smith also leads the NHS laparoscopic colorectal surgical unit at West Middlesex University Hospital in West London.

Mr Smith is highly qualified, graduating from The Royal Free Hospital and University of London. He completed his surgical training on the North West Thames, Reading and St Mark's Hospital (Harrow) rotations. As well as leading the laparoscopic colorectal surgical unit at West Middlesex University Hospital, his previous extensive experience led him to developing the comprehensive service. 

Mr Smith is an experienced clinical educator. He has been involved in teaching nurses, students and junior doctors for many years as well as regularly teaching on national courses. Recently his focus has been management and leadership.

Mr Smith's research is widely published in peer-reviewed journals and he is an active member of  various medical organisations including Surgeons of Great Britain & Ireland (ASGBI), The Association of Coloproctology of Great Britain and Ireland (ACPGBI) and the National Bowel Cancer Audit Programme (NBOCAP).

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