Causes of Itchy Feet and their Treatment

OVERVIEW OF ITCHY FEET

What’re itchy feet? This shouldn’t be a strange term, should it? Itchiness is the sensation that you feel on your skin that makes you want to scratch. It is known as pruritus in medical terms. Pruritus can occur on any part of your skin.

Your feet is most vulnerable to pruritus. Why? Because they easily get into sweaty conditions with different types of footwear. Many factors can contribute to itchy feet. These include exposure to:

  • Dry environments that cause dryness of the skin
  • Moisture
  • Infectious fungi, parasites, viruses, and bacteria
  • Irritants, when walking without footwear.

Even though itchy feet may not be a cause for alarm, they could be an indication of an underlying disorder of the skin, or in worse cases, an internal disease. Having a good understanding of the symptoms of itchy feet can help you find relief from worry.

Itchy feet
Photo Credit: Medical News Today

WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF ITCHY FEET?

 So many factors may contribute to itchy feet. They include:

Disease conditions

Itchiness of the foot caused by an underlying medical condition may be due to increased serotonin production. If this is the case, your doctor will ask you to take a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor medication for treatment purposes.

Health conditions that may contribute to itchy feet include:

  • Hepatic disease
  • Cancer
  • Cholestasis – reduced forward flow of bile through the biliary tree
  • Kidney disease
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • The disease of the thyroid gland
  • Polycythemia Rubra vera
  • Pruritus gravidarum (in pregnancy)

Skin conditions

Some skin conditions may contribute to itchy feet. These include:

  • Scars
  • Dry skin
  • Bug bites
  • Athlete’s foot (also known as tinea pedis)
  • Allergic contact dermatitis
  • Juvenile plantar dermatosis
  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Psoriasis
  • Pest infestations, like scabies or lice

Irritants

An irritant is a substance that reacts with your body when it comes in contact. They may be topical ointments or medications.

Some medications that cause itchiness of the feet or body include narcotics or opioids, such as statins. ACE inhibitors, and morphine sulfate.  

SIGNS & SYMPTOMS OF ITCHY FEET

When your feet is itchy, you’ll feel like scratching it. You may notice some changes to your skin when you have itchy feet. Some of these skin changes include:

  • Open areas, usually cracked
  • Blisters
  • Rash
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Itching
  • White spots
  • Dry plaques, resembling scales

You can also have itchy feet without any accompanying physical changes on your skin surface.

WHEN SHOULD YOU SEE YOUR DERMATOLOGIST?

See your dermatologist if there is no improvement after home care, or if you experience worsening of symptoms with time.

Your doctor will ask about your medical history and also carry out a physical examination to diagnose the cause of your itchy feet. You may be asked a few questions including:

  • Have you taken any new medications recently?
  • Have you been exposed to any irritants or recent?
  • Do you have any chronic underlying medical conditions such as eczema, or diabetes mellitus?
  • Is there any history of skin condition in your family?

In some cases, your doctor may perform certain diagnostic tests including:

  • Biopsy
  • Skin scraping
  • Blood tests
  • Culture

Certain tests may involve checking your skin surface for the presence of fungus, or other germs.

TREATMENT OF ITCHY FEET

Treatment for itchy feet depends on the cause. If your condition is due to an allergy, avoid the product that’s causing the allergic reaction.

Some treatments that can relieve this condition include:

  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl), an H1-blocker. Antihistamines have certain side effects, including sedation. They may be contraindicated in older adults.
  • Antifungal sprays or creams can be used by those with an athlete’s foot. If you have a chronic fungal infection, you can get a prescribed antifungal treatment from your doctor.
  • Emollients such as petrolatum, steroid creams, and topical anti-itch medications can reduce itching on the skin surface.
  • Certain medications such as gabapentin, SSRIs, and tricyclic antidepressants may be of benefit to some patients.

PREVENTION

The best way to prevent itchy feet is by having good foot care habits. Wear clean water-proof shoes when you’re on gym floors or public shower facilities. You can also adopt the following foot care tips:

  • Do not wear socks and shoes on wet feet
  • Regular washing of the feet is important. When washing, do so with mild soap and consider those areas between your toes.
  • Wear wool or cotton socks
  • Ensure your shoes are well-ventilated so that your feet can stay dry.

If you experience an athlete’s foot regularly, you may need to get an antifungal powder. Apply the powder on your feet before wearing your shoes and socks.

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