Pruritus, the medical term for itching, can occur anywhere on your skin. However, the feet are especially vulnerable for the tendency people have to put them in sweaty situations with various types of footwear. Exposure to water, exposure to irritants when walking barefoot, and infectious bacteria and fungus can also lead to itching feet.
While not typically cause for concern, itching feet can indicate an underlying skin condition or even disease. Understanding what symptoms you should and should not be worried about can help you find relief.
Itching feet may stem from a number of diseases, skin conditions, and exposure to irritants, which can include medications or topical ointments.
Foot itch caused by a medical condition is related to an increase in the neurotransmitter serotonin. For this reason, doctors often prescribe anti-serotonin medications to treat itching. Medical conditions that cause itching feet include:
- cholestasis, a liver disease that occurs during pregnancy
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- peripheral neuropathy, a condition commonly associated with diabetes
- polycythemia vera
Skin conditions that cause itching specifically to the feet include:
- allergic contact dermatitis, which can be caused by something like new laundry detergent
- athlete’s foot/tinea pedis (fungal infection)
- atopic dermatitis
- juvenile plantar dermatosis
Medications known to cause body and feet itching include opioids or narcotics, such as morphine.
Itchy feet will make you want to scratch your skin. Changes to the skin may accompany the itchy sensation. Examples of skin changes are:
- cracked, open areas
- dry, scale-like plaques
- white spots
However, it’s possible for your feet to itch with no accompanying skin symptoms.
See your doctor if your itchy feet don’t improve with home care or your symptoms get worse with time.
Your doctor will take a thorough medical history and conduct a physical exam to diagnose itchy feet causes. Some questions could include:
- Have you recently started taking any new medications?
- Have you been exposed to any potential irritants?
- Do you have any chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes or eczema?
- Have any family members, friends, or teammates recently experienced any skin-related concerns?
If necessary, your doctor can perform a skin scraping, culture, or biopsy. These tests check areas in or on top of your skin for presence of organisms, such as fungus.
A doctor will treat itchy feet according to the cause. For allergic reactions, avoidance of the product or products causing the allergic reaction can help to reduce itching.
Medications that may relieve itchy feet include serotonin inhibitors such as:
- cyproheptadine (Periactin)
- ondansetron (Zofran)
- paroxetine (Paxil)
Taking an antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), can also help. However, these medicines can have a sedative effect. Older adults may need to avoid them.
If you have athlete’s foot, antifungal sprays or creams may help. Chronic fungal infections may require prescription treatments.
Topical anti-itch medication and steroid creams can help reduce itching, particularly in cases of cholestasis and neuropathy-related conditions.
Good foot care habits can help reduce itchy feet and prevent some causes, such as a fungal infection. This includes always wearing waterproof shoes, such as flip-flops in shared shower facilities or gym floors. You can also use these foot care measures:
- Refrain from putting on shoes and socks until your feet are completely dry.
- Wash your feet regularly with mild soap, paying careful attention to the areas between your toes and applying moisturizer after you finish bathing.
- Wear breathable socks that wick away moisture, such as those made from cotton.
- Wear shoes that are well-ventilated, such as those with mesh holes that help the feet stay dry.
If you experience regular episodes of athlete’s foot, you may need to apply an antifungal powder to your feet before you put on your socks or shoes.