Causes and treatments for itchy feet

Allergies & Asthma
Itchy feet can be bothersome, especially if the itchiness is chronic or accompanied by other symptoms. Many different conditions can cause itchy feet.

While occasional itchiness can be nothing to worry about, extremely itchy feet or an itch that does not get better over time may require treatment.

Underlying causes of itchy feet can include:

1. Peripheral neuropathy

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, peripheral neuropathy is damage to the peripheral nervous system, which extends throughout the body.

Nerve damage can cause sensations, such as itchiness, numbness, and pain, in several parts of the body, including the feet.

2. Dry skin

Person putting lotion on their foot to relieve itchy dry skin
Creams and lotions can relieve itchy, dry skin.

Dry skin can sometimes cause itching. Risk factors for dry skin include:

  • age
  • living in a dry climate
  • regular exposure to water, for example, due to the frequent hand-washing required in health and service industries
  • swimming in chlorinated water

If a person has dry skin on their feet, they may itch. Applying creams, lotions, or oils can help.

If regular moisturizers do not work, a pharmacist can recommend effective over-the-counter (OTC) products.


3. Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a skin condition that results in sore, scaly red skin. It can affect almost any part of the body, including the feet. Psoriasis can be extremely itchy and painful.

It occurs when a person’s immune system starts attacking healthy skin cells. This speeds up the production of these cells, producing a rash.

Treatments usually include creams and lotions that may contain tar, salicylic acid, corticosteroids, or a combination.

4. Eczema

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a condition usually characterized by very dry, itchy skin. It can appear on many areas of the body, including the feet.

According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, it is not clear what causes eczema, although a combination of environmental and genetic factors seem to be involved.

Dyshidrotic eczema is a type that often appears on the sides and soles of the feet. It causes small, deep, extremely itchy blisters. Females are twice as likely to develop this form of eczema.

People can treat itchiness that results from mild dyshidrotic eczema by soaking their feet in cold water or applying cold, damp compresses to the area.

If the eczema is more severe, a doctor can prescribe creams or recommend OTC solutions.


5. Athlete’s foot

Person tying sport shoes trainers or sneakers in gym dressing room.
Fungi can grow inside sports shoes, causing athlete’s foot.

Athlete’s foot is a fungal skin disease that usually develops between the toes, although it can also affect other parts of the feet.

Athlete’s foot can cause an itching and burning sensation on the infected area.

Fungi thrive in warm, moist, and dark conditions, such as inside sports shoes. An overgrowth of these fungi can cause athlete’s foot.

Antifungal medication, which comes as pills or lotions, is usually very effective at treating athlete’s foot.


6. Allergic reactions

Skin allergies can cause itchiness. They may result from particular skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis or from contact with a substance such as latex or pollen.

Taking antihistamines can help manage the symptoms of an allergic reaction. These medications come as pills or creams.

7. Hookworm infections

A hookworm is a type of parasite that lives in human intestines. People can get hookworms by walking barefoot in areas where the larvae are present. Hookworm infections are relatively rare in places with sufficient hygienic practices.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a person may experience itchiness in the spot where the hookworm larvae entered their body.

Doctors can treat hookworm infections with drugs that target the parasites.

8. Scabies

Scabies occurs when very small mites burrow into a person’s skin and lay eggs, causing a very itchy rash.

The condition is contagious and travels through skin-to-skin contact. It can occur anywhere on the body, including on the feet.

Applying a prescription medication directly to the skin can usually treat scabies.


9. Diabetes

Diabetes is a long-term condition that affects insulin resistance and how the body changes food into energy. It can mean that a person’s blood sugar levels are too high, which can have serious health consequences.

Diabetes can cause diabetic neuropathy, which can lead to tingling, itchiness, and numbness, especially in the feet.

Poor circulation due to diabetes can also cause itchiness. Also, having diabetes may increase a person’s risk of bacterial and fungal infections.


10. Burns

Even after they have healed, severe burns can cause lasting damage and itching.

According to research from 2013, more than 90 percent of participants reported itching in the aftermath of a burn. For over 40 percent of participants, itching persisted in the long term.

Types of itch

Podiatrist inspecting person's foot
A person who experiences chronic itchiness should speak to a doctor.

The medical term for itchiness is pruritus. The causes can be put into four categories:

  • cutaneous, which is an itch that results from a problem in or on the skin
  • systemic, which is itchiness due to a generalized issue throughout the body
  • neuropathic, which is an itch that comes from the nerves or nervous system
  • psychogenic, which means that the itching results from a psychological issue

However, an article in the journal Clinical Reviews in Allergy & Immunology notes that there is rarely a singular cause of a person’s itching. Itchiness can result from a complex mix of factors.


Home remedies

Tips for treating itchy skin at home include:

  • applying cold, wet cloths or ice packs to the itchy area
  • making an oatmeal bath by grinding 1 cup of oatmeal into a powder and adding it to warm bath water
  • regularly using moisturizers
  • trying topical anesthetics that contain pramoxine
  • applying menthol or calamine to the affected area, which can provide a cooling sensation

A person should try to avoid scratching, which can often make an itch worse, rather than better. Scratching also increases the likelihood of infection.

Summary

Occasionally itchy feet are a common occurrence. However, if a person has chronically itchy feet, or if the itch comes with other symptoms, they should see a doctor for a thorough checkup.

Many OTC and home remedies can help relieve itchiness in the feet. If the itch continues or gets worse, speak to a doctor.

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