Are you experiencing itchy feet? You may be experiencing pruritus, a medical term that describes the sensation on your skin that gives you the urge to scratch. Pruritus can be an acute or chronic condition. It can be generalized, affecting large portions of your body, or localized which means that it is concentrated in specific areas like your hands and feet, arms, or legs.
The skin on your feet is susceptible to pruritus because your feet regularly withstand extreme temperatures, direct contact with irritants, and moisture-rich shoe environments. Exposure to stress or irritants can trigger you to develop dry, itchy feet, or lead you to develop fungal infections and rashes that increase the urge to scratch.
Most of the time, irritated or itchy skin is not worrisome, but occasionally can be a symptom of a more serious underlying medical condition. If you are experiencing intensely irritated feet, itchy feet at night that impacts sleep, the feeling is accompanied by a rash, bumps, or blisters, or if it persists for more than two weeks, you may have a medical condition that requires treatment.
What Causes Itchy Feet?
Having itchy feet is a common ailment that ranges from mildly irritating to chronic and severe.
There are several reasons why your feet may feel itchy. Your feet are subjected to daily physical stress that can cause your skin to feel dry, irritated, and itchy. These daily stressors can make your feet more prone to developing parasitic, fungal, and viral infections that can make your feet feel itchy, too.
Aside from daily stress, there are also certain medical conditions that can lead you to develop itchy feet. If you are experiencing distractingly itchy feet, an itch that will not go away, or if you develop a rash, blisters or bumps that itch, you should make an appointment with your doctor to see if you need further medical treatment.
Conditions that can cause itchy feet
- Dry skin: If you have itchy hands and feet, and red or flaky skin—not a rash—the culprit may be dry skin. When your skin is dry, it can get irritated, scaly, and itchy. If you suspect you have dry skin and want to avoid itchy feet after you shower or bathe, consider moisturizing right away to lock in hydration and improve your skin’s condition.
- Hormonal fluctuations: Itchy hands and feet at night can be a symptom of naturally-occurring estrogen fluctuations in women who are undergoing menopause.
- Scars: When patients experience skin injuries, their nerve endings can be damaged. As skin and nerves begin to heal, the process can trigger a sensitive or itchy feeling around or on top of the scar.
- Allergies: When your body comes into contact with an irritant, it can lead you to develop contact dermatitis, a rash of itchy bumps on whatever area of skin has come into contact with an allergen.
- Insect bites and parasites: Red, itchy bumps on your feet could indicate that you have been bitten by an insect or (more rarely) have a parasitic infestation.
- Athlete’s foot: Itchy, burning feet can sometimes be from tinea pedis—otherwise known as athlete’s foot—a common but uncomfortable fungal infection that spreads in moisture-rich environments like locker room floors and wet grass.
- Psoriasis: If you have psoriasis, you can develop red, scaly, itchy skin all over your body, including the feet, toes, and ankles.
- Eczema: Atopic dermatitis, often called eczema, is an umbrella term for skin conditions that lead to red, inflamed, irritated, and itchy skin.
- Pruritus gravidarum: Itchy palms and feet during pregnancy could indicate pruritus gravidarum, a condition caused by the obstruction of bile from the liver. If you are pregnant, talk to your doctor about ways to treat your itchy feet. Depending on the cause of your symptoms, topical creams and oral medications may be available to help you manage your discomfort.
- Liver and kidney disease: Itchy soles of the feet is a symptom of primary biliary cirrhosis, a long-term liver disease. If you have advanced chronic kidney disease, you may experience severely itchy skin, among other symptoms.
- Thyroid disorders: Skin that is dry and itchy can be an indication of thyroid disease. Hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease, among other conditions, may cause you to develop itchy skin and other symptoms.
- Nerve disorders: Peripheral neuropathy, a condition that is often caused by diabetes, and other nerve disorders may increase the sensation of itchy feet or hands at night.
- Mental health disorders: If you are experiencing depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, you may feel an increased urge to scratch as a result of your illness.
- Cancer: Certain cancers, including leukemias, lymphomas, gallbladder cancer, and liver cancer may cause a feeling of itchiness.
Signs and Symptoms of Itchy Feet
There are a variety of terms people used to describe the sensation of itchy feet. Some describe the feeling as crawling, tickling, dry, or uncomfortable, and many find that it triggers the reflex to scratch. Scratching is natural and may temporarily relieve symptoms, but it is not a long-term solution. Intense scratching can exacerbate certain conditions or lead to secondary bacterial infections that require treatment.
Itchy Feet Diagnosis
Most people who experience mildly itchy feet do not require medical attention. If your itching is severe or persistent, you should discuss with a doctor to be screened for any underlying conditions that might be causing your discomfort.
To diagnose you, your doctor may examine your feet for any rashes or swelling. Sometimes a biopsy, culture, or skin scrape of any unusually colored or textured skin may be needed. You may also be asked to provide a blood sample for further screening.
How to Stop Itchy Feet
If you want to alleviate your irritated skin discomfort right away, there are plenty of home remedies for itchy feet.
Home remedies for itchy feet
- Apply a lubricating, alcohol-free moisturizer
- Apply a cool, wet compress
- Take a colloidal oatmeal bath
- Soak your feet in apple cider vinegar
How to Prevent Itchy Feet
Preventing itchy feet will largely depend on identifying and addressing the root cause of your discomfort. The best way to prevent itchy feet is to care for your feet, prevent fungal infections, and mitigate feelings of itchiness by:
- Thoroughly cleaning your feet with mild soap and water
- Applying a soothing moisturizer to your feet after you shower
- Making sure your feet are completely dry before wearing socks or shoes
- Wearing socks made from natural, breathable fabrics like cotton
- Wearing properly-ventilated shoes
It is also important to avoid potential irritants. Make sure your detergents are allergen-free, avoid fragrances, do not bathe in extremely hot water, and reduce your stress levels.
When to See a Doctor
Most patients with mild itchy feet find relief with over-the-counter lotions and creams, home remedies, and preventative lifestyle changes, but sometimes, itchy feet can indicate an underlying condition that requires medical attention. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor or dermatologist right away:
- An itch that lasts more than a few weeks or flares up regularly, even after you take preventative measures
- An itch that affects a large part, or all, of your body
- An itch that is intense enough to distract you during the day or to wake you at night
- An itch that is accompanied by other skin symptoms like rash, swelling, or an infection
- An itch that began when you started menopause or that you suspect is linked to your pregnancy
If you are experiencing an itch that is accompanied by difficulty breathing, or swelling of the lips, tongue, mouth, or face, you may be experiencing a dangerous allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Seek emergency medical care or call 911 immediately.
How K Health Can Help
Itchy feet can be uncomfortable—find out what’s causing it. Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app? Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.