Nov 27, 2023
Itchy feet can be a real nuisance, but when you scratch the surface (both metaphorically and literally), you'll discover that this seemingly trivial issue may be a symptom of various underlying health conditions.
Let's figure out exactly why your feet are itchy, maybe at night, maybe between the toes or perhaps you can't stop scratching the soles of your feet!
Athlete's foot, or Tinea Pedis, is one of the primary culprits behind itchy feet. This fungal infection mostly affects the skin between the toes, leading to symptoms such as scaling, itching, and redness. It's highly contagious and is commonly contracted in communal areas like changing rooms and swimming pools.
While it is predominantly an affliction of athletes — hence the name — anyone can develop this condition, especially if they tend to have sweaty feet confined in tight shoes. It's crucial to maintain proper foot hygiene, keep your feet dry, and avoid sharing footwear to reduce the risk of contracting Athlete's foot.
Contact Dermatitis is another leading cause of itchy feet. It's a type of skin inflammation triggered by direct contact with certain substances. Common irritants include laundry detergents, body lotions, and materials in shoes or socks.
If your feet become itchy after wearing a new pair of shoes or socks, or after using a new skincare product, you may be dealing with contact dermatitis. In such cases, identifying and avoiding the offending substance is often the best course of action.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition characterized by the rapid buildup of skin cells. This buildup leads to scaling on the skin’s surface, causing discomfort and itchiness. Psoriasis can affect various parts of the body, including the soles of the feet, a condition known as Palmoplantar Psoriasis.
Although there is no cure for psoriasis, symptoms can be managed with a combination of medications, lifestyle changes, and regular consultations with a dermatologist or podiatrist.
Eczema, specifically Dyshidrotic Eczema, is a common skin condition that can cause itchy feet. It's characterized by small, intensely itchy blisters on the edges of the fingers, toes, palms, and soles of the feet.
Triggers for Dyshidrotic Eczema can include stress, allergies, damp feet and hands, or exposure to certain substances like nickel or cobalt. Treatment typically involves moisturizing ointments, corticosteroid creams, and avoiding triggers where possible.
Dry skin or Xerosis can lead to itchy feet. While it may seem mundane, dry skin can lead to itchiness, especially during colder months or in arid climates.
If your feet are persistently dry and itchy, consider investing in a good foot moisturizer and using a humidifier at home. Avoiding excessively hot showers and drinking plenty of water can also help maintain skin hydration.
Liver dysfunction leads to a buildup of bilirubin, a yellowish substance formed when red blood cells break down. Under normal circumstances, bilirubin is eliminated by the liver. High bilirubin levels can turn the skin yellow and cause itchiness, like in your feet.
If you exhibit symptoms of liver disease, your doctor will conduct tests, including blood tests and an ultrasound or CT scan of your abdomen, to determine the cause of your liver dysfunction. The itchiness can be managed with a gentle hypoallergenic moisturizer, over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines, or, in severe cases, ultraviolet light therapy. Your doctor may also suggest lifestyle changes, such as taking lukewarm showers to prevent skin dryness. If your liver function improves, your itching might cease.
The itching associated with kidney disease is called uremic pruritus. When the kidneys fail to function properly, certain substances build up in your blood, leading to severe itching, especially on your palms or the soles of your feet. This itching often intensifies at night.
If you show symptoms of kidney disease, your doctor will conduct blood and urine tests to determine the cause. Treating the itchiness with over-the-counter or prescription oral antihistamines might help. Other medications like gabapentin, which aids with nerve conduction, may also be recommended. If you require dialysis (a procedure that removes excess water and toxins from the blood), the itching might disappear post-treatment.
Neuropathy can occur anywhere in your body but usually affects your feet and hands. With neuropathy, your immune system releases substances (cytokines) that can irritate the nerves and cause itching.
Neuropathy can be caused by injuries, infections, and conditions like diabetes, multiple sclerosis, or other neurological disorders. Treatments include topical, over-the-counter pain medications that numb the nerves and reduce itchiness, pain, and burning in the feet. Your doctor may prescribe an oral medication like gabapentin to help with nerve pain.
Lastly, if you’re pregnant then this could be the cause of your itchy feet. The hormonal increase during pregnancy might dry out your skin and cause your feet to swell, both of which can lead to itchy feet.
In some cases, itchy feet during pregnancy may indicate a condition called intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy, which affects bile release from liver cells. This condition traps bile in the liver, causing it to spill into the bloodstream and resulting in itching.
If your feet itch during pregnancy, see your doctor. They might conduct a blood test to check your liver enzymes. If they’re elevated, early delivery might be necessary to prevent complications.
You might notice that your feet itch more at night. The itch might feel more intense because your mind isn't as busy at night, so you're more likely to notice the itch. Additionally, itchiness might feel better during the day when you're walking around, as pressure on the feet can help reduce itching.
Home remedies include soaking your feet in cold water or an ice bath and moisturizing your feet with a gentle cream. Over-the-counter solutions include topical steroids for rashes, antifungal creams for athlete’s foot, antihistamines for allergies, and a menthol-based cream, like SARNA lotion, applied several times a day for itchiness.
Consult a doctor if:
Although most of the reasons we've listed above aren't serious, if you experience persistent itchiness, it's essential to consult a podiatrist for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
If you're based on the Sunshine Coast or in Brisbane, you might want to speak to a member of our team here at Dan Everson Podiatry. We are a team of experienced podiatrists with clinics in Caloundra, Taringa, Deception Bay, Maroochydore, Nambour, and Noosa. If you have any questions or would like to book an appointment at one of our podiatry clinics, then simply contact us today.
Remember, your feet carry you through life, so it's vital to take good care of them.