The medical term for itching is pruritis, but it may as well just be called pure agony—that's how exacerbating the sensation can be. One frequent target of itching is your feet, which are subject to a great deal of stress and susceptible to a variety of conditions that cause itchiness.
For instance, your feet are exposed to temperature extremes from your shoes and the physical stress of bearing the weight of your body. This can cause skin dryness and irritation, which are common triggers of itchiness. These extremes also leave feet vulnerable to fungal infections, which also cause the skin to 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.1
Luckily, the news about itchy feet isn't all bad. Here's the scoop on the most common skin conditions that can cause itchy feet and tips on effective ways to finally ditch the itch.
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.2
Dry skin is common on the feet, which don't have any oil glands. The skin here is thicker than on other parts of our body as well, and when it's exposed to prolonged pressure and friction, it can become thick and hard.
Dry skin tends to worsen in the winter. Regular use of creams or lotions may prevent skin cracking and relieve itchiness.
Athlete's foot, known medically as tinea pedis, is a common, highly contagious 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.3
An umbrella term for a group of conditions that includes red, scaly patches that itch a lot, eczema—which is known as "the itch that rashes"—is very common. The cause isn't known, but researchers believe a combination of environmental factors and genetics are involved.
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.
Everyone's triggers for eczema outbreaks are different, but typical causes include irritation from overexposure to moisture (sweat) or overly dry skin that occurs due to low humidity or excess heat exposure.4
An important part of eczema treatment is the regular use of topical skin creams and ointments to rehydrate 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 is a red, itchy, and often blistering rash that occurs when the skin comes in 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.
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.6
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.