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An itchy foot is an unpleasant sensation on your feet that urges you to scratch. There can be a number of reasons your feet itch.
Figuring out the source of your skin irritation will lead you to the path of treatment and relief. It can also tell you how to prevent it from reoccurring in the future.
Why Does Itchy Feet Worsen at Night?
Daily skin function changes, temperature, and moisture levels of the skin may worsen the itch at night.
The circadian rhythm is a natural cycle of physical, mental, and behavioral changes that the body goes through in a 24-hour cycle daily. There is a complicated interaction between the circadian rhythm, inflammatory mediums, and psychological elements that can cause the itch to worsen at night. (1)
Causes of Itchy Feet
Itchy feet can result from the following:
1. Dry skin
As you age, the capacity of the outer layer of the skin to hold water decreases. Walking and running lead to the development of thick and dry skin on your feet. Water content is important in maintaining the normal look and texture of the skin. (2)
2. Eczema and psoriasis
Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory disease that can affect the skin, nails, and joints. It usually presents as red, scaling plaques.
Eczema is a common inflammatory skin condition that presents as an itchy red rash. It usually involves the skin creases.
If you come into contact with something in the environment that you are allergic to, your skin may develop a reaction, causing itching and redness.
4. Diabetic neuropathy
If you have diabetes and your blood sugar is high and not controlled, damage to the nerves of your feet and legs can occur. Symptoms of numbness, tingling, and itchiness may develop.
5. Athlete’s foot
Sometimes, an athlete’s foot shows as moist white skin in between your toes. This fungal infection can spread to the toenails or other parts of the body.
6. Adverse effects of medications
Feet that are itchy can be a side effect of medications and therapeutic agents. Cancer, psychiatric/psychogenic causes, and blood disorders can also cause itchy feet.
Diagnosing Itchy Feet
If you have itchy feet, it is important to get proper treatment by consulting a foot doctor or podiatrist. Your foot doctor will do a workup, which includes medical history, allergies, family history, and physical exam.
The doctor will ask you many questions to arrive at a diagnosis. The most important part of the physical exam is the dermatological exam.
Your doctor will evaluate your skin and nails. If skin lesions or wounds are present, they will be examined as well. Further testing may include a skin biopsy, blood tests, allergy tests, and nerve testing.
Medical Conditions That Cause Itchy Feet
1. Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)
Some people infected with AIDS develop peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is a condition of the nerves that causes loss of feeling, numbness, tingling, and itchiness.
Skin disorders in people with AIDS that can cause itchy skin include dry skin, seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, pruritic papular eruption, staphylococcal folliculitis, and prurigo nodularis. (3)
Uncontrolled diabetes can negatively affect your nerves. This is called diabetic neuropathy.
If you have damaged nerves in your legs and feet, you might not have any feeling or may develop sensations in your feet such as itching, pins and needles, and tingling.
3. Sjogren’s syndrome
Dry eyes and dry mouth are the common symptoms of this disorder. Sometimes, the immune system also attacks and damages other organs and tissues. Inflammation in the connective tissues occurs, along with dry, itchy skin and skin rashes.
Around 10% of patients with Sjogren’s syndrome have cutaneous lesions. Other less common skin phenomena may occur, such as annular erythema, urticarial vasculitis, or hypergammaglobulinemic purpura. (4)
4. Chronic renal failure
Pruritus is a common manifestation in patients with progressive kidney disease. Pruritus is an annoying sensation of the skin that causes the urge to scratch. Kidneys eliminate waste from the bloodstream. If the kidneys fail, the buildup of waste can become a source of itching. (5)
5. Liver disease
Cholestasis is a liver disease wherein the flow of bile from your liver is reduced. Bile is the fluid produced by your liver that aids digestion.
When bile flow is blocked, it can lead to an accumulation of bilirubin. Increased bilirubin may cause itching.
Other Symptoms of Itchy Feet
Other skin changes may accompany the itchy feeling, which include:
- Cracks in the skin
- Dry elevated superficial skin lesions
- Flaking of skin
- Raised welts
- Inflamed patches of the skin
- Pustules or small pimples on the skin containing pus or fluid
- Clusters of thickened skin
- Excessively moist skin
- White skin
- Discolored patches of skin
Lifestyle Changes and Self-Care Tips for Itchy Feet
Take these steps to prevent and relieve itchy feet:
- Use soap and laundry detergent that do not cause irritation.
- Hydrate. Drink plenty of water.
- Control excessive sweating of the feet by using foot powder.
- Dry well in between toes after showers or baths.
- Avoid walking barefoot, especially in public places.
- Wear dry, clean socks.
- Wear shoes of breathable materials, such as a mesh material.
- Use sunscreen to prevent skin damage.
- Wear protective gear when outdoors to prevent contact with plants or environmental factors that could cause an itch response.
- Join group psychotherapy or support groups.
- Use low-pH cleansers
- Limit your time in the shower or bathtub.
- Consider acupuncture.
- Ask your doctor about transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy.
Medical Treatments for Itchy Feet
Itchy feet can be managed in several ways, depending upon the cause and skin condition:
- To treat itchiness due to diabetic neuropathy, your blood sugar levels need to be under control. The management of diabetic neuropathy includes improving glycemic control as preventative therapy and using medications to alleviate the pain. Analgesics and capsaicin can treat diabetic neuropathy. (6)
- If itchy feet are due to an underlying condition such as kidney, liver, and blood diseases, the condition must be treated.
- Treat dry skin with creams, lotions, or emollients. These products retain water in the skin where it is needed.
- Antihistamine medications alter the immune reaction, treating the “itch” feeling.
- Topical steroids decrease inflammation of the skin and the “itch” sensation. They do not relieve dry skin.
- Antifungal creams, sprays, powder, or oral medications can be used to treat athlete’s foot.
- Itchiness caused by kidney and liver disease is treated with narcotic and non-narcotic analgesics.
- Phototherapy or light therapy is used to treat inflammatory skin diseases. Phototherapy is effective against chronic pruritus in systemic diseases such as end-stage renal disease and liver disease. (7)
- Intramuscular administration of corticosteroids decreases inflammation.
- Antidepressants may be helpful in easing some types of chronic itch.
Home Remedies for Itchy Feet
You can manage itchy feet at home using ingredients that you may already have at your disposal:
- Use a pumice stone to remove dry, dead skin.
- Apply a cold, wet cloth to skin that itches.
- Take oatmeal baths to soothe itchy skin.
- Topically apply a cooling lotion.
- Use a humidifier, especially in winter, to prevent dry skin.
- Avoid wearing wool that irritates the skin.
- Bathe in cool or lukewarm water. Hot water can cause dry skin.
- Soak your feet in salt water to help manage the athlete’s foot.
- Use ice to calm the inflammation.
- Take milk baths to soothe irritated skin.
- Use essential oils that have anti-inflammatory properties like peppermint, lavender, chamomile, etc.
- Oil therapy hydrates and soothes the skin.
- Use aloe vera gel to moisturize the area and soothe the itching.
Prevent itchy feet at night to get a good night’s rest and break free from the annoying burden of constant itching, by following these precautions:
- It is important to schedule annual checkups with your primary care physician to rule out systemic conditions that could cause itchy feet.
- Something simple you can do yourself at home, is to, evaluate the skin of your feet every day to check for any abnormal changes.
- Make sure to moisturize dry skin daily. Conversely, keep excessively moist skin dry.
- Control your blood sugar if you are diabetic to prevent sensations in your feet.
- Protect your feet from environmental factors that can cause irritation.
- Proper foot hygiene can also prevent bothersome itchy feet.
- Be mindful of any allergies and avoid factors that may induce a reaction.
Are Itchy Feet Contagious?
Itchy feet can be contagious depending on the circumstance. Athlete’s foot can be contagious and spread to others. It is important to put on your footwear when in public places to avoid contracting athlete’s foot.
Wear socks or slippers in the home to prevent spread in the household. It is important to note that an athlete’s foot can also spread to other parts of your body. So avoid touching your feet if you have athlete’s foot.
Make sure to wash your hands well after touching your feet.
Itchy feet can prompt you to scratch the area. Scratching can cause complications such as wounds, irritations, abrasions, and bruises.
When there is a break in the skin, an infection to the open lesion can occur. At this point, antibiotics and topical treatment of the wound might be necessary. Sometimes, wounds on the feet take a long time to heal.
In the case of itchy skin due to athlete’s foot, the fungus on the skin of the foot can spread to the nails. The fungus can spread to other parts of the body or to others.
If itchy skin due to diabetic neuropathy is not managed due to uncontrolled blood glucose level, numbness and loss of feeling can occur.
When to See a Doctor
Seek medical care if:
- Over-the-counter medications or home remedies do not relieve itchy feet or the itch worsens.
- You are unsure of the cause of your itch.
- You notice that you have an infection in your feet in correlation with your itch.
Make an appointment with your foot doctor to seek appropriate medication that will be able to provide relief. Your doctor will take a thorough medical history and provide a plan of action.
What your doctor may ask you:
- Did you change home products (detergent, cleaning supplies, soap, etc.) around the same time the itching started?
- When did the itching start?
- Have you experienced other symptoms such as weight loss, fatigue, or increased thirst?
- Did you have changes in medications?
- Were you outdoors recently where you could have touched certain plants or vegetation?
- If you are diabetic, what was your last hemoglobin A1C, and when was it done?
- When was the last time you were evaluated by your primary care physician?
What you may ask the doctor:
- How can I prevent itchy feet from occurring in the future?
- What can I do at home to prevent itchy feet?
- Do you recommend a certain moisturizer or cream for my feet?
- What should I be looking for when I evaluate my feet at home daily?
- How does an athlete’s foot occur?
- What over-the-counter medications do you recommend for me, if this happens again?
- How long will it take the itch in my feet to go away?
- What are the signs of an infection?
An itchy foot is a dermatological condition. It can be caused by anything from dry skin to cancer. It is important to find out the cause and to act fast.
Maintaining healthy skin may relieve itchy feet. Healthy nutrition, adequate daily fluid intake, protection from the environment, and proper foot hygiene can all prevent the discomfort caused by itchiness in the feet.
A variety of home remedies may be used to treat and prevent itchy feet. The use of medications may be necessary to treat this skin condition. Antibiotics or antifungals may be needed to treat the infection. Other prescription medications may be useful in some cases of pruritus.
As with other conditions, itchy feet may require a combination of different management techniques. If the problem worsens or does not get better, call your local foot doctor for the appropriate treatment plan toward healing.