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Skin Conditions That Make Your Feet Itch

Common Causes of Itchy Rashes that Occur on the Feet

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Updated April 22, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

The skin on your feet is subject to a great deal of stress and is susceptible to a variety of conditions that cause itchiness. The temperature extremes that your feet are exposed to, thanks to shoewear plus the physical stress of bearing the weight of your body, can cause skin dryness and irritation, which are common triggers of itchiness. These extremes also leave feet vulnerable to fungal skin infections, which also cause itch. Even though scratching is a normal response and temporarily relieves an itch, it often makes the skin problem worse and can even result in a secondary bacterial infection. Some skin conditions and diseases that can cause itchy feet include:

Fungal Infections

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Athlete's foot, known medically as tinea pedis, is a common fungal infection of the foot. Along with a red or scaly rash, itchiness is a key symptom. Athlete's foot can occur on the soles of the feet as a widespread rash with a powdery appearance, or it can occur as a localized rash between the toes. A more acute type of athlete's foot causes a red, inflamed rash with blisters. Blisters are often scratched open, creating further irritation. Athlete's foot is treated with anti-fungal medications and sometimes topical corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and itching.

Eczema

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Eczema is a rash that has an appearance and symptoms similar to athlete's foot. Eczema can appear as small, circular areas of thick, scaly skin or as larger, less distinct lesions. Typical causes of eczema include skin irritation from overexposure to moisture (sweat) or overly-dry skin that occurs due to low humidity or excess heat exposure.

One form of eczema that tends to occur on the tips or sides of the toes and fingers, known as dyshidrotic eczema, is intensely itchy and produces red, scaly areas of cracked skin with tiny blisters. Atopic dermatitis is a form of eczema that frequently occurs in infants and children. This form of eczema may be associated with a history of allergy or asthma. Atopic dermatitis often presents as areas of thickened, scaly skin with increased depth and appearance of skin lines.

An important part of eczema treatment is the regular use of topical skin creams and ointments to re-hydrate skin, balance skin's pH, and act as a protective barrier against dryness or sweat. Topical corticosteroids may also be needed to quell inflammation.

Contact Dermatitis

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Contact dermatitis is a red, itchy and often blistering rash that is caused by the skin's contact with an irritant or allergen. Common irritants and allergens that cause contact dermatitis on the feet in sensitive individuals include: glues or chemicals found in shoes, neomycin found in antibiotic ointments, poison ivy, adhesive tape, and perfumes or other chemicals used in skin and nail care products. Besides identifying and eliminating the cause of the rash, contact dermatitis is treated with oral or topical corticosteroids and topical creams and lotions to soothe skin, such as calamine lotion. Patch testing, which is usually done by a dermatologist or allergist, may be used to identify which specific allergen or irritant may be causing the rash.

Dry Skin

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Also called xerosis cutis, dry skin can occur secondary to another medical condition, such as atopic dermatitis, or it can be caused by external conditions, such as low humidity or weight-bearing stress. Dry skin is also associated with aging, a diet deficient in certain vitamins or essential fatty acids, and use of harsh skin cleansers. Dry skin tends to worsen in the winter, requiring regular use of creams or lotions to prevent skin cracking and relieve itchiness.
 

Sources:

Dockery, DPM, Gary L. and Crawford, DPM, Mary Elizabeth (Ed.). Cutaneous Disorders of the Lower Extremity. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders, 1997. 152-153.

Richard P. Usatine, MD, and Marcela Riojas, MD. (2010) Diagnosis and Management of Contact Dermatitis. American Family Physician. 82(3):249-255.

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