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Itchy feet can make you quite uncomfortable, but it is usually mild and subsides after a while.
However, if the itch becomes severe, persistent, or recurrent, it may be stemming from an underlying problem that requires medical attention.
This article will discuss the various causes and symptoms of itchy feet along with the medical interventions that can help relieve this condition.
Causes of Itchy Feet
Here are some of the common causes behind itchy feet that may vary in their severity:
- Dry skin
- Hormonal fluctuations
- Insect bites and parasites
- Athlete’s foot
- Psoriasis (1)
- Pruritus gravidarum
- Liver and kidney disease
- Thyroid disorders
- Mental health disorders
- Exposure to chemicals in cosmetics, dyes, or detergents
- Exposure to industrial chemicals, such as those found in elastic, latex, and rubber
- Exposure to metallic substances (various metals, copper, wire)
- Poison ivy or oak
- Extreme cold or heat
- Neurodermatitis (extreme itching)
Symptoms of Itchy Feet
An itch in the foot or feet may be accompanied by the following symptoms:
- Crust formation (when a wound begins to heal and crust up, it usually triggers slight itching in the area)
- Flaky or peeling skin due to extreme dryness
- Redness, warmth, or swelling
- Pus- or fluid-filled blisters
- Tenderness or pain
If the itchiness is stemming from a more systemic underlying issue, it can be accompanied by other bodily symptoms such as:
- Fever and chills
- Joint stiffness and pain
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
Treatment for Itchy Feet
Itchy feet can be the result of a variety of factors, most of which are fairly benign and can be treated at home with OTC ointments, remedies, and favorable lifestyle changes.
However, if the itch occurs suddenly, is too strong or long-lasting, or is accompanied by other unusual symptoms, you must get it checked by a doctor to rule out any serious underlying problem.
The rapid onset of severe itching can sometimes be a sign of a serious anaphylactic reaction that qualifies as a medical emergency.
Some of the interventions for itchy feet include:
1. Urea and paraffin-based creams
If your itch is stemming from dry skin, applying urea-containing ointments can help provide relief. These products are available in different formulations and concentrations, and you should choose according to the severity of your condition.
Urea penetrates quickly and deeply into the skin to produce good results. These products are well tolerated; their side effects are mild and are more frequent at high concentrations. (2)
If your feet are itchy due to excessive sweating, iontophoresis can help. This intervention uses electric current to penetrate and deliver medication through the skin, (3) which helps in blocking the sweat glands but only for a short while.
Botox is another method to control the itch associated with sweaty feet. Botox is injected into the feet to block the sweat glands and thereby curb the amount of perspiration. (4)
4. Anthelmintic medications
Anthelmintic drugs are used to treat parasitic infections, such as hookworm, that can make your feet itchy. (5)
5. Antifungal medicines
If the itch is the result of a fungal foot infection such as athlete’s foot, use an OTC antifungal spray or cream to inhibit the microbial growth and relieve the itching.
For chronic fungal infections, you will have to visit your doctor for a prescription-strength antifungal medication. (6)
If the itching is triggered by an allergic reaction, the doctor will prescribe an antihistamine to curb the underlying inflammation.
Take note, though, that this class of medication can induce drowsiness and other unexpected side effects, so use them carefully and according to the doctor’s directions. Due to the unwanted side effects, this medication is generally not recommended for elderly patients. (7)(8)
7. Cooling agents
Calamine or menthol-based products have a cooling effect on the skin. When applied to itchy feet, these soothing agents help bring down the skin inflammation and thus relieve itching and dry out any oozing blisters. (9)
Emollients are deeply hydrating ointments that moisturize and soothe the dry skin of your feet. Less dryness leads to less itching.
Emollients come in different forms and consistencies, including creams, ointments, and lotions. Look for fragrance-free emollients, because the chemicals used to give them a pleasant scent can end up further irritating the itchy skin. (10)
9. Prescription 1% hydrocortisone cream
Itch is often a result of underlying inflammation, which can be treated with topical corticosteroids such as 1% hydrocortisone cream. This ointment must be used in the doctor-prescribed dosage and for the recommended duration.
If applied in excessive amounts or for prolonged periods, it can induce skin thinning along with other deleterious side effects.
Diagnosing Itchy Feet
To determine the root cause of the itch, your doctor will first inquire about your symptoms and medical history and examine your feet.
A number of tests may be conducted to get more clarity. These include:
- Skin scraping
- Blood test
When to See a Doctor
Itchy feet require medical attention if:
- You develop oozing blisters or fissures on the feet.
- You experience a worm-like tingling sensation in the feet.
- You develop a rash, swelling, or an infection on the feet that does not subside with OTC treatment.
- The itch persists for more than 2 weeks or flares up repeatedly, despite OTC treatment and adopting preventative measures.
- The itch spreads to other areas of the body.
- You develop the itch during pregnancy.
- The itch coincides with the onset of menopause.
- You get swelling in the legs, arms, and stomach; a yellowish tint in your skin or eyes; or reduced urinary input, all of which point to kidney or liver problems
A foot itch is discomforting but generally nothing to worry about. A variety of OTC interventions are available for itch control.
However, medical consultation is needed if the condition persists despite the preliminary home treatment, is too severe, is accompanied by other worrying symptoms, or takes a turn for the worse. In such cases, it could be stemming from an underlying condition that requires proper diagnosis and medical treatment.
Chronically or severely itchy feet can keep you up at night and cause a lot of physical and psychological distress. (1) Scratching the itch is the instant response, but it only provides momentary relief and then reinforces it with greater intensity.
Plus, the constant friction of the nails can end up rupturing the itchy skin. Your nails or fingers carry a lot of germs that can get transferred onto the damaged skin and pave the way for infections. So, it’s best to seek medical help and avoid these undue complications.