Itchy feet can become the bane of any day: you’re either driven mad trying to resist the urge to scratch; or by the redness, swelling, cracking, and flaking as a result of uncontrollable itching. While the cause could be something benign such as dry skin or excessive sweating, it could also indicate an infection or undiagnosed skin condition. Moreover, if left untreated, other complications could arise, such as a secondary infection.
The itching and burning will only continue to plague you until you accurately identify the source and treat it accordingly. Besides the obvious bug bites or allergic irritation, itchy feet are most commonly caused by a fungal infection or an underlying skin condition. In rare cases, itching could also suggest the presence of another medical condition, such as diabetes. Only examination from a trusted podiatrist can accurately diagnose your foot condition.
Here’s a look at the possible causes of itchy feet, treatment, and prevention tips to keep your feet feeling fresh.
When itchy feet are the main symptom, fungal infection is usually the primary suspect: specifically, tinea pedis, or athlete’s foot. Constant exposure to sweat and bacteria, in addition to walking barefoot on contaminated surfaces, make your feet the ideal breeding ground for fungal infection.
Athlete’s foot is an extremely contagious fungal infection which is easily spread through contact with infected surfaces, usually in damp spaces such as showers and gym locker rooms. In fact, it can even be spread through shared towels or linens. The first sign of infection is a dry, scaly rash that causes unbearable itching on the bottoms of the feet and between the toes. While the symptoms can be abated by certain over-the-counter creams, only a podiatrist can effectively cure you of the infection. Once cured, vigilant prevention should be practiced to avoid re-infection.
A number of skin conditions can lead to insatiable itching of the feet.
Eczema: Eczema can affect most parts of the body, but dyshidrotic eczema specifically affects the feet and hands. It is characterized by tiny itchy blisters formed on the soles of the feet, which then dry and cause cracking on the skin. If not properly cared for, the exposed skin can become vulnerable to infection. Since dyshidrotic eczema can share symptoms with other skin conditions, a skin sample will likely be taken for proper diagnosis.
Contact dermatitis: Contact dermatitis is a skin irritation that results from contact with an allergen or irritant, which appears similar to a rash. Allergic contact dermatitis is caused by skin exposure to an allergen, triggering an allergic reaction in the affected area. Irritant contact dermatitis is distinct in that it does not involve the immune system, but is instead the result of skin damage caused by exposure to an irritant that rids your skin of its protective surface oils. Common triggers of contact dermatitis include poison ivy, latex, nickel, chemical fragrances, topical medications, and leather.
Psoriasis: Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder which causes rapid skin cell turnover, resulting in incredibly itchy and scaly dry patches called plaques. The plaques are the result of layers of new skin cells rising so quickly that the dead skin piles atop the surface, rather than gradually sloughing off, form dry patches of thickened skin. Plaques are commonly found on the bottoms of the feet, as well as the elbows and knees.
Additional Sources of Itchy Feet
Here are a few potential, albeit less likely, perpetrators of itchy feet:
- Diabetes: Skin conditions can sometimes indicate diabetes. A condition called eruptive xanthomatosis produces small itchy bumps on the skin as a result of severe diabetes. The condition subsides once the diabetes is managed and under control.
- Scabies: Scabies is an infection of the human itch mite which burrows just below the skin to lay its eggs. The infestation causes intense itching which worsens at night, a pimply rash, and tiny blisters. You can also see traces of the burrows on the skin, which appear as thin whitish lines along the surface. Scabies is easily spread, and should receive medical attention to stem the infection right away.
- Pitted Keratolysis: Pitted keratolysis is a non-contagious bacterial infection, caused by wearing damp, restrictive footwear. It produces shallow pits beneath the toes and soles of the feet, accompanied by itching, burning, and an extremely foul odor.
The feet are constantly plagued by bacteria, and need to be cleaned just like your hands. To keep your feet comfortable and fresh, follow these basic hygiene tips:
- Avoid walking barefoot anywhere, especially on damp communal surfaces.
- Always wear dry, clean socks and shoes made of breathable materials.
- Wash your feet thoroughly, and do your best to keep them dry.
- If someone you know has an infection, do not share towels or linens, and protect your feet from contaminated surfaces.
- Keep your toenails trimmed and clean.
If you suspect an infection is already present, schedule an examination with a reputable podiatrist right away.
Schedule a Consultation with Dr. Vikki and Dr. Connie
If itchy feet are wreaking havoc on your life, schedule a consultation with esteemed podiatrists Dr. Vikki and Dr. Connie at the Superior Foot & Ankle Care Center today.