What is foot itch?
A foot itch is a tickling, irritating sensation accompanied by the persistent need to scratch your foot. Redness, swelling, soreness, flaking and scarring may occur in the area of itchiness. The medical term for itching is pruritus. Although scratching may temporarily relieve your symptoms, it can cause more irritation or lead to an infection. With most cases of itching, it is best if you can refrain from scratching and leave the area alone to heal.
Causes of foot itch are numerous and may include insect bites, allergies, infections, and trauma. When wounds are healing they often start to itch, which is a sign of improvement. Chickenpox, an extremely common childhood illness, is accompanied by red, oozing blisters that cause intense itching. Eczema, contact dermatitis, scabies, and pinworms are other causes of itching.
Athlete’s foot, a fungal infection known scientifically as tinea pedis, is a common cause of foot itch. The fungus causes a scaly, dry rash that is spread from person to person. Exposure to infection occurs from walking barefoot on contaminated surfaces, such as in swimming pool facilities and locker room floors, hence the name athlete’s foot.
Foot warmth and perspiration creates a favorable environment for fungal growth. The condition is easily treatable with topical creams, but frequent fungal infections could signal a more serious condition. People who have diabetes or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection are especially prone to athlete’s foot and other fungal infections. Frequent use of antibiotics can also predispose you to developing fungal infections.
Most causes of foot itch are fairly mild and should not be a cause for concern. However, your healthcare provider should evaluate itching that is sudden, severe or unusual. Itching caused by a serious food allergy can come on rapidly with a strong need to scratch. Sudden itching may be symptomatic of a serious anaphylactic reaction, which impairs breathing; causes swelling, fainting, and vomiting; and is considered a medical emergency.
Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction to a food, chemical, or insect sting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if an itch is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, including swelling of the face, swelling or constriction of the throat, difficulty breathing, fainting, change in level of consciousness or alertness, or rash.
What other symptoms might occur with an itchy foot?
Foot itch may be accompanied by other symptoms, depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Certain conditions that cause foot itch may also involve other body systems.
Related localized symptoms that may occur along with foot itch
An itchy foot or feet may be accompanied by other localized symptoms including:
- Crusting or flaking skin
- Redness, warmth or swelling
- Blister formation with pus or fluid
- Tenderness or pain
Other symptoms that may occur along with foot itch
Foot itch may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:
- Fever and chills
- Joint stiffness and pain
Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition
In some cases, foot itch may be a symptom of a life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have foot itch along with serious symptoms including:
- Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness
- Fever and chills
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Respiratory or breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or inability to breathe, labored breathing, wheezing, or choking
- Sudden swelling of the face, lips or tongue
- Tightness or constriction in the throat
- Worsening of symptoms despite treatment
What causes foot itch?
Foot itch has many possible causes, including allergens (substances that cause allergies), infections, autoimmune disorders, or other causes, such as stress.
Allergic causes of foot itch
Foot itch may be caused by contact dermatitis. Common triggers include:
- Cosmetics, dyes or detergents
- Industrial chemicals, such as those found in elastic, latex and rubber
- Metallic substances (various metals, copper, wire)
- Poison ivy or oak
Other allergic causes of foot itch include:
- Eczema (skin disorder causing scaly or blistering rashes that may be caused by allergy)
- Food allergies (allergic reactions to certain foods)
- Insect bite allergy, such as a mosquito bite or bee sting
Infectious causes of foot itch
Foot itch can also be caused by infections including:
- Candidiasis (yeast infection)
- Eczema (skin disorder causing scaly or blistering rashes that may be caused by infection)
- Tinea pedis (athlete’s foot)
Other causes of foot itch
Foot itch can be caused by other factors such as:
- Extreme cold or heat
- Neurodermatitis (extreme itching)
Serious or life-threatening causes of foot itch
In some cases, foot itch may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include:
- Anaphylaxis (a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction)
- Chronic renal failure (also called chronic kidney disease)
- Obstructive biliary disease (obstruction of the bile ducts)
Questions for diagnosing the cause of foot itch
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your foot itch including:
- What footwear do you wear everyday?
- When did the itching start?
- Are you taking any medications?
- Do you have any known allergies?
- Do you feel otherwise healthy?
- Have you tried any new products recently, such as soaps, perfumes, or sprays?
- Have you spent any time at shared facilities recently, such as locker rooms or swimming pools?
- Does scratching make it better or worse?
What are the potential complications of foot itch?
An itch is not usually serious, but in rare cases, it can be a symptom of a serious condition that may have severe complications. You should contact your healthcare professional to rule out any serious conditions. Once the underlying cause of your itch is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your healthcare professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:
- Cellulitis (skin infection) from untreated athlete’s foot
- Secondary infections, which may develop from scratching and related skin trauma
What are treatments for foot itch?
Treatment for foot itch depends on the cause. If the itching results from an underlying condition or infection, your doctor will focus on treating the primary cause, which in turn will relieve itching symptoms.
For many common causes of itching, over-the-counter products and prescription medications are often an effective foot itch treatment, including:
- Anthelmintic medications, which target parasitic infections, such as hookworm, that can cause itching in the foot.
- Antifungal medicines, most often used to treat athlete’s foot, a frequent cause of foot itch.
- Antihistamines, such as Benadryl, to treat an allergic cause of foot itch.
- Cooling agents, such as calamine or menthol, which create a cooling effect as they evaporate from your skin.
- Emollients, which create a protective layer over your skin to keep in moisture and relieve itching.
- Lotions and moisturizers, to prevent dry skin. Look for moisturizers without fragrances or perfumes, which could irritate the skin.
- Topical anesthetics with pramoxine, which temporarily numb the skin to relieve itching sensations.
- Topical corticosteroids, available in many forms including lotions, creams, gels and ointments. These medications can treat itching that results from conditions that affect the skin, including psoriasis, eczema, allergies, and contact dermatitis.
Another cause of foot itch is diabetic neuropathy, a complication of diabetes that can result in itching, numbness or tingling in the feet. There is no specific treatment for diabetic neuropathy, but by working with your doctor to manage your diabetes, you can help prevent further progression of diabetic neuropathy.
What are home remedies for foot itch?
Many causes of foot itch, such as athlete’s foot, require medical treatment and cannot be treated solely with home remedies. However, there are several home treatments doctors recommend to complement medications and relieve symptoms of foot itch.
Home treatments and remedies for foot itching include:
- Applying cool moisture, such as an ice pack or cold, damp cloth, to the itchy area (wrap an ice pack with a towel to prevent skin damage)
- Bathing or showering in lukewarm water, as hot water can dry out skin and lead to itching. Also try to limit your time in the shower or bath.
- Changing your socks often, particularly if they get very sweaty over the course of the day.
- Drying your feet well after a shower or bath, particularly between the toes, to prevent fungal infections such as athlete’s foot.
- Reducing stress, as stress can trigger chronic conditions that make foot itch worse.
- Soaking in an oatmeal bath, which can soothe itching and moisturize the skin.
- Using a humidifier in your home, particularly during winter months, to help prevent dry skin.
- Wearing soft, loose-fitting clothing, to avoid skin irritation that can trigger itching.