Foot Rash

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS

What is foot rash?

Rash is a symptom that causes the affected area to turn red and blotchy and to swell. A rash may cause spots that are bumpy, scaly, flaky, or filled with pus. Rashes can vary in location, pattern and extent and may occur in any area of the body. A foot rash can have a variety of causes, and it may indicate something occurring around the foot itself or suggest a systemic (body-wide) condition.

Contact dermatitis (skin inflammation) is caused by an adverse reaction to something that touches the skin, including chemicals found in detergent, soap or a fragrance. For example, you may develop a rash on your foot when wearing socks that were washed with a particular detergent or treated with a chemical. Other forms of contact dermatitis include exposure to certain plants, such as poison oak or ivy, an animal bite, or an insect sting. Lyme disease is caused by tick bite, which can first appear as a circle with a bull’s-eye pattern, then progress to a rash.

Allergies to food and medications are potentially serious sources of rash. Peanuts, shellfish, strawberries and avocados are just some of the foods that can trigger allergic reactions. These foods may cause mild reactions; however, in some cases, reactions could develop into potentially life-threatening conditions characterized by vomiting, difficulty breathing, and swelling. Allergic purpura is a serious, often life-threatening allergic reaction that can cause a skin rash but can also affect the joints, gastrointestinal tract, and kidneys.

Rashes may also be associated with in skin conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis and impetigo. The foot is a common location for psoriasis eruptions, which cause scaly white spots and inflammation. Some chronic skin conditions may flare up for a time, then resolve. Other causes for rash include autoimmune disorders that occur when the body is attacked by its own immune system, which normally serves to protect it from foreign invaders (antigens). Many viruses that occur during flu season, or those associated with childhood diseases, can produce rash. Hand-foot-and-mouth disease, a condition that occurs in children, causes a non-itchy rash on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

Rashes can be caused by an allergic reaction to food, medications, lotions or detergents. These reactions can range from mild to potentially life threatening, especially if swelling and constriction of breathing occurs, which could indicate anaphylactic shock. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if a rash is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, including swelling of the face, swelling and constriction of the throat, difficulty breathing, fainting, change in level of consciousness or alertness, pale skin, or purple rash.

Seek prompt medical care if a rash is persistent and causes you concern.

What other symptoms might occur with foot rash?

Foot rash may be accompanied by other symptoms, depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Certain conditions that cause foot rash may also involve other body systems.

Related localized symptoms that may occur along with foot rash

Foot rash may be accompanied by other localized symptoms including:

  • Bruising
  • Itchiness
  • Pus or discharge
  • Redness, warmth or swelling
  • Scale formation
  • Tenderness or pain

Other symptoms that may occur along with foot rash

Foot rash may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, foot rash 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 rash along with other serious symptoms including:

  • Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness

  • Fever and chills

  • Joint pain and stiffness

  • Purple rash

  • 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 rash?

Foot rash may have many possible causes, including allergens (agents that cause allergies), infections, autoimmune disorders, or other causes such as stress.

Allergic or inflammatory causes of foot rash

Foot rash 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 rash 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 bee sting

Infectious causes of foot rash

Foot rash can also be caused by infections including:

    Autoimmune causes of foot rash

    Foot rash can also be caused by autoimmune disorders including:

    • Kawasaki disease (rare, serious pediatric disorder characterized by inflammation of blood vessels, high fever, rash, and mucous membrane changes)

    • Psoriasis (thick scaly plaques sitting atop a reddened base)

    • Rheumatoid arthritis (chronic autoimmune disease characterized by joint inflammation)

    • Systemic lupus erythematosus (disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues)

      Other causes of foot rash

      Foot rash can be caused by other factors including:

      Serious or life-threatening causes of foot rash

      In some cases, rash may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include:

      Questions for diagnosing the cause of foot rash

      To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your rash including:

      • When did the rash begin?

      • Are you taking any medications?

      • Could you have eaten something that disagrees with you?

      • Does the rash cause any itching or scaling?

      • Do you feel otherwise healthy?

      • Have you tried any new products recently, such as soaps or sprays?

      • Have you spent a lot of time outdoors lately?

      What are the potential complications of foot rash?

      Because foot rash may be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. For example, infectious diseases, such as mumps or measles, can lead to rare but serious complications, including miscarriage, hearing loss, and serious brain infections, such as encephalitis or meningitis.

      Once the underlying cause of your rash is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

      • Arthritis

      • Cellulitis (skin infection) from untreated athlete’s foot

      • Cognitive difficulties

      • Encephalitis (inflammation and swelling of the brain due to a viral infection or other causes)

      • Meningitis (infection or inflammation of the sac around the brain and spinal cord)

      • Miscarriage or stillbirth

      • Paralysis

      • Permanent hearing loss

      • Secondary infections, which may develop from scratching and related skin trauma

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      1. Skin rashes and other changes.
      2. Rashes. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
      3. Crawford F, Hollis S. Topical treatments for fungal infections of the skin and nails of the foot. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2007; :CD001434
      4. Tierney LM Jr., Saint S, Whooley MA (Eds.) Current Essentials of Medicine (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011.
      Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
      Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 10
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      THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.