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What To Do When You Have Itchy Feet

Reviewed by
Dr. Vincent Marino

Itchy feet can be bothersome and uncomfortable. They are usually the result of a fungal infection or skin condition, but many other things can lead to the itching. Itchy feet can be an indicator of an underlying condition such as eczema or athlete’s foot.

The itch can begin at any time of day or night. Many people find it easier to deal with during the day, since the brain is active and a conscious decision can be made not to scratch the itch. While we’re asleep, however, and the brain is not functioning on a conscious level, the itching can become a major problem; in our sleep, we are apt to scratch, which can lead to blisters, open sores, swelling, and redness. In general, itching occurs more during the night because of the drop in adrenaline and cortisone and the increase in histamine that occurs while we lie resting. These changes are related to the circadian rhythm of hormones in our bodies.

What Causes Itchy Feet?

The two most common causes for itchy feet are fungal infections such as athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) and skin conditions such as eczema, dermatitis, and psoriasis. Additional causes include:

  • Allergies
  • Irritants such as laundry detergent, soap, or perfume
  • Sweaty feet
  • Foot rash
  • Insect, tick, or flea bites
  • Hives
  • Hookworm
  • Hot feet
  • Sock material
  • Shoe material
  • Hormonal changes, especially in pregnant women
  • Poor hygiene

Washing your feet is just as important as washing your hands. Bacteria are naturally present on our skin, and there are more than 250,000 sweat glands located on each foot—and they are continuously sweating. Without soap and water, and given a warm, moist location such as in shoes and socks made of suffocating materials like nylon, the bacteria will begin to grow when mixed with sweat, causing itchy, smelly feet. There are also medical conditions such as ancylostoma duodenale that list itchy feet as a symptom. Ancylostoma duodenale is a parasitic hookworm infestation that is typically contracted by walking barefoot in damp soil. Not only does this condition make one’s feet itch, it makes the entire body itch. Talk with your doctor about other medical conditions that could be causing your feet to itch.

Itchy Feet Symptoms

Itchy feet are usually an indicator of another problem, and they can also produce symptoms of their own, such as:

  • Redness
  • Inflammation
  • Blisters or open sores
  • Flaky patches
  • Cracked skin
  • Peeling skin
  • Bleeding

Many of these symptoms arise after the person continually scratches the foot for a long time. It does not take much scratching to turn your skin red and weaken it, making it susceptible to flaking or cracking.

Diagnosing Itchy Feet

If you have itchy feet and are unaware of any problems such as infection, dry skin, or allergies, you should consider having your feet examined by a podiatrist. Fungal infections are progressive, and it could take years for additional symptoms such as yellow toenails to appear. Your doctor will give you a physical exam and possibly take samples of your skin or sores to test under a microscope in order to make a diagnosis. Once a diagnosis is made and the cause of the itchy feet is determined, a proper treatment plan can be created.

Itchy Feet Treatment & Prevention

Treatment for itchy feet will depend on the cause. If you have a fungal infection such as athlete’s foot, antifungal medication can be bought over the counter or prescribed by your podiatrist. If you are suffering from dry skin or a skin condition, therapeutic ointments and creams can be prescribed to fight the itch and additional symptoms such as dry skin that may be causing the itch. Often cortisone cream is used to treat itchy feet. For more severe cases an oral steroid may be used. Treatment will also involve prevention measures, including:

  • Keeping feet clean at all times
  • Keeping feet thoroughly dry
  • Wearing clean socks and shoes
  • Wearing socks and shoes made of breathable materials
  • Wearing gloves and/or socks at night
  • Keeping nails trimmed short and smooth
  • Not going barefoot in public showers, locker rooms, pools, or gyms
  • Following your doctor’s instructions at all times

Itchy Foot Products

Here are some of the most popular products on the market for itchy feet. You should be able to find them in your local pharmacy, drug store, grocery store, or online:

  • Lotrimin Ultra Antifungal Athlete’s Foot Jock Itch Cream
  • Flexitol Medicated Foot Itch Relief Cream
  • Lamisil At Athlete’s Foot Cream
  • Ting Athlete’s Foot and Jock Itch Cream
  • Medifirst Antifungal Cream
  • Tinactin Antifungal Jock Itch Cream (clinically proven to cure most athlete’s foot and ringworm)
  • Natureplex 1% Clotrimazole Antifungal Athlete’s Foot Jock Itch Cream
  • Canestan Duel Action Cream

If possible, talk with your doctor or podiatrist before purchasing any over-the-counter medication. Depending on the severity of your case, these over-the-counter products may not do anything for you.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Here are some questions to ask your doctor about itchy feet:

  • What over-the-counter products do you recommend to your patients?
  • Based on my situation, do you recommend prescription strength or over-the-counter products for me?
  • What type of socks and shoes will prevent the itchiness?
  • What can I do to prevent myself from scratching my feet while I sleep?
  • If treatment is not working, how long should I wait to schedule another appointment?
  • I like to take hot showers; could that be a contributing factor?
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Medical References:

  1. American Medical Association "Family Medical Guide" 4th Edition (John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2004) 123; 1073
  2. H. Winter Griffith, MD "Complete Guide to Symptoms, Illness & Surgery" (The Berkeley Publishing Group, 2006) 163
  3. M. Beers "Merck Manual of Medical Information" 2nd home edition (Pocket Books, 2003) 222
  4. American Diabetes Association, Skin Complications, http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/skin-complications.html

This page was last updated on May 28th, 2014



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