Itchy feet are the worst, if only because you’ll get some funny looks if you take off your shoes and scratch (which is probably not a good idea anyway). So if scratching is out, what can you do about feet that itch?
Your first step is learning what’s causing the itch. Then you can begin to treat the cause. Here are some of the most common reasons your feet itch, and what you can do about it.
Fungus goes a lot better on your pizza (mmm, mushrooms!) than on your foot, but some of the most common sources of foot itch come from fungus. Athlete’s foot, also known as tinea pedis, is a fungal infection caused by the same organism responsible for jock itch and ringworm.
Athlete’s foot presents itself as a red, scaly rash that itches and burns. Fungi love damp, dark environments, so when you cram your feet into sweaty socks and shoes, it’s no surprise that athlete’s foot can take hold.
There are a number of over-the-counter medications available to treat athlete’s foot, but they don’t work particularly well, and the infection often comes back. It’s far better to get a prescription topical cream to rub over the rash. Oral antifungals are sometimes necessary, especially if the infection has spread to the toenails.
If your feet aren’t sweaty and creating an environment that fungal infection will love, that itch may be due to good old dry skin. Feet are plagued by dry skin because they don’t have any oil (sebaceous) glands. Low humidity caused by chilly winter air—further compounded by indoor heating—or summer air conditioning can make dry skin worse. So can age and some medications and certain health conditions, including diabetes.
In addition to itching, you may notice red, flaky skin on your feet, especially on your heels. The solution to dry, itchy skin on the feet usually involves a self-care routine. Oils, creams and ointments can all be effective in moisturizing the skin of your feet and taking away that annoying itch.
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic condition known to cause red, itchy skin. It’s commonly seen in children but can develop in a person of any age. Though there is no cure, it can be effectively managed.
Symptoms of eczema include:
- Dry, scaly skin
- Raised bumps that leak fluid and crust over
- Red or brown patches on the skin
There are a number of treatments available for eczema. Most common are corticosteroids or calcineurin inhibitor creams. Dressing the outbreaks with corticosteroids and wet bandages can work for serious outbreaks. Phototherapy and sunlight exposure can also be effective, and new injectable medication is gaining popularity.
Psoriasis is sometimes confused with eczema, but they are very different conditions. While most researchers believe that eczema is related to certain gene mutations, psoriasis is a problem with the immune system—an autoimmune disease.
Like eczema, psoriasis can cause itchy red patches on the skin of the foot, but these may be covered with a silvery layer of dead skin, and they may be thicker than those caused by eczema. Often people with psoriasis describe the sensation of their patches as more than just itching—it can seem more like burning or being bitten by bugs.
As with eczema, psoriasis can be treated with topical creams and light therapy. Biologics—drugs that instruct your cells to make certain chemicals—are also used in psoriasis treatment.
Sometimes itchy feet are caused by serious medical conditions. Neuropathy—often due to diabetes—and peripheral artery disease (PAD) are two of the more common conditions that cause itching or burning feet in this category. Neuropathy is damage to nerves, while PAD is a problem with blood circulation. These conditions usually have no skin symptoms. If your feet are itching or burning and there is no discernible rash, lesion or other visual skin disorder, it is best to seek medical evaluation from a qualified healthcare professional.
If you’re plagued by itchy feet, request an appointment with an Essex Union Podiatry specialist. We have decades of combined experience diagnosing and treating skin conditions of the feet, and we’ll be able to determine what’s causing your itch and develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.