Itchy Feet and Toes

athlete's foot fungal infection

What are itchy feet and toes?

This is a condition where you feel the urge to scratch the skin on your feet especially the soles and in between the toes. This itchy feeling is caused by irritation with several underlying factors. Itchy feet and toes can be due to fungal infection, complication due to diabetes, extremely cold temperatures, or intestinal parasites.

Susceptibility to bacteria

Fungal infection or bacterial growth on the feet and toes will result to the following conditions:

  • Athlete’s foot
  • Eczema

Athlete’s Foot

This is one of the most common causes of itchy irritated feet. If you have Athlete’s foot your feet get scaly and red. Occasionally you will notice some discharges on irritated areas. Despite its name Athlete’s foot affect everyone not just athletes. Frequently the cause of this condition is fungi.

It can be picked up just about anywhere. This can be acquired through direct contact on anywhere and anything from someone who has Athlete’s foot.

athlete's foot fungal infection

Picture : Athlete’s foot fungal infection

image source: SFS

Athlete’s Foot Treatment

Some people just easily gets Athlete’s foot while others could be a little but not totally resistant to it. A previous infection will not make the patient immune to the fungi though. To treat the infection wash feet with antibacterial soap, wipe the feet dry and keep it dry as much as possible because the fungi thrive on moist warm areas. Applying an antibacterial powder will also help check the fungi from spreading.

Soaking your feet in water with drops of betadine will also help kill the fungi. Always wear clean socks everyday but if your feet are extra sweaty it would be best if you can change socks within the day. Since fungi thrive in warm, moist areas sweaty feet enclosed in socks and shoes are the perfect breeding place for these microorganisms. Airing out shoes is very important which is why it would help to have more than one pair. Moreover it would be best to wear open-air footwear like sandals rather than closed shoes whenever the situation allows.

Home remedies for Athlete’s foot

Items found in the kitchen are great home remedies to stop the fungi. Corn starch, baking soda, or garlic are usually rubbed or sprinkled on the affected areas. A foot soak will be required for other home remedy items like cinnamon, vinegar, tea, or salt. Just remember that vinegar could sting especially if your feet and toes already have wounds or abrasion from scratching. You can also wash your feet too using water mixed with juice of squeezed lemon.

Foot Eczema

The most common types of eczema that may affect the foot and toes are:

  • Atopic
  • Discoid
  • Irritant contact
  • Allergic contact
  • Varicose eczema

Eczema can mean any form of dermatitis or skin irritation. In its milder form the skin becomes dry and itchy but the condition could easily worsen and start to bleed. The cause of eczema depends on the clinical diagnosis that is why it is important that the condition gets checked by your doctor in order to get effective treatment.

Inherited allergic reaction

Atopic eczema is the most common skin condition. The skin is dry and at the same time very itchy. As the patient scratches the affected area the skin breaks and causes infection. The affected part then starts to swell and the skin begins to discharge fluid. Atopic eczema is hereditary and a reaction to certain allergens.

Itchy on cold weather

Itchy feet and toes that usually occur during winter is a condition called Dry Discoid eczema. Like Atopic eczema dry discoid is also hereditary but it is not caused by allergies. Medical professionals are still trying to pinpoint the exact cause of this disease. Most f the time dry discoid eczema on susceptible persons starts to break out after an injury on the skin like scratches, insect bites, and burns. Irritants like chemicals, detergent, and even getting your feet wet all the time will worsen the condition.

Irritating substances

Another form of eczema that causes itchy feet and toes is dermatitis caused by constant skin contact with chemical substance resulting to irritation. Scratching will make matters worse because when the skin breaks it becomes open to bacterial infection too. This condition is called Irritant contact dermatitis.

Reaction to clothing materials

This type of foot and toe itching may be caused by the materials used to make the foot gear. This includes socks, shoes, sandals, and slippers. Some people just break into a scratching fit when using cotton, leather, or wool. Other times, laundry soap and fabric conditioners may also result to an allergic reaction. This condition is called allergic contact dermatitis.

Itchiness due to varicose veins

Varicose veins are a condition where the blood vessels get enlarged and bulges on the skin. This condition usually affects adults. The veins have become weak and damaged that it cannot support smooth and easy blood flow. Hence some blood accumulates in the damaged vein causing it to swell and bulge.  People with varicose veins are also predisposed of developing speckled, itchy lesions that are irritated and inflamed. When the condition worsens the lesions become painful ulcers.

No cure for Eczema

This may be the new millennium and we are living in the digital age but doctors have yet to find the cure for eczema. There are ways to manage the discomfort though both medication prescribed by your doctor and alternative home remedies to alleviate the itch and pain. The most important management technique though is proper hygiene. Taking regular baths will keep the bacteria from proliferating. Your doctor may also order topical solutions like emollients and steroids but only after a series of tests have been done.

This is important when using steroids because of its known side effects in the long term. Topical steroids are a very common solution used to manage eczema because it can effectively bring swelling down. Oral steroids will only be prescribed when the symptoms cannot be managed through topical solutions alone. Laser treatment is also another way of managing severe eczema. Remember though that all these treatment for the symptoms brought about by eczema should only be used if prescribed by your doctor. Never try to apply or take anything without seeing your doctor and given a prescription.

Natural Home Remedies for Foot Eczema

Witch hazel is highly recommended for naturally treating eczema. It has strong astringent properties that can constrict blood vessels which in turn could reduce swelling. Furthermore its haemostatic properties help heal skin breaks, wounds, and lesions as it stops the flow of blood.

Soaking feet on water with drops of witch hazel as often as possible will give good results. Another ingredient for a foot soak to fight eczema is oatmeal. Meanwhile, a choice between substances like baking soda or bleach will make a good, strong foot soak too.

Manage Eczema Through Preventive Measures

Eczema is a special case and needs special care. For those who are prone to itch due to an allergic reaction the best way to prevent an outbreak is to avoid the allergen. Choose the material of clothing you use especially socks and shoes. Avoid substances that will cause skin irritation. Moisturize your skin if it gets too dry. Once again maintaining proper hygiene should take top priority.

Itchy Feet and Toes Due to Diabetes

Itchy skin is a common complication for diabetes. Treatment and prevention is crucial in this condition before irritated feet and toes develop infection resulting to other serious complications which could lead to amputation or cutting off of the affected limb. People with diabetes are prone to fungal infection where the feet and toes are one of the highly sensitive and easily affected areas. Meanwhile, if blood sugar and blood triglycerides remain uncontrolled itchy yellowish-red, pea-like growth will also develop. This condition is called eruptive xanthamatosis. With narrowed and hardened blood vessels blood circulation gets constrained. This will result to itchy dry skin. As the blood vessels degenerate NLD or Necrobiosis Lipoidica Diabeticorum also develops affecting the feet. The skin on the feet and toes become waxy and yellowish with purple edges and is itchy and painful.

Managing Blood Sugar Levels and other Treatment

Diabetes is a lifetime condition and itchy feet and toes is just one of the several complications of this disease. The key to treating itchiness is to manage blood sugar levels. Special diet should be followed and medication based on the doctor’s prescription should be observed stringently. One good effect of keeping blood sugar in manageable levels would be the disappearance of eruptive xanthamatosis or the yellowish-red bumps. A diabetic who smokes is really asking for itch trouble. Thus keeping a healthy lifestyle is absolutely critical.

Treatment for NLD on the other hand is not necessary unless the skin breaks. Take note that diabetes and fungal infection is a double whammy. However fungi can be treated by medication based on doctor’s prescription along with common home remedies. Most of all the best way to fight fungal infection is to keep yourself clean as well as keeping your feet clean and dry. For complications caused by a condition like diabetes hygiene is still very important but it is not the only critical factor. Along with cleanliness people with diabetes need to manage their health condition too. This means keeping blood sugar down through proper diet, exercise, and medication.

Itchy Feet and Toes due to Parasites

Walking barefoot on sand and soil is never advisable. There are several microscopic parasites that could lodge itself on the skin pores and hatch eggs there resulting to disease causing infestation. Itchy feet and toes are just one of the manifestations or signs and symptoms for Cutaneous Larva Migrans a parasite that is a member of the hookworm family. These parasites actually thrive in animals especially dogs and cats and are excreted along when the animal move its bowel. It is then transferred on humans when walking barefoot in sand or soil.

Commonly known as ground itch or creeping eruption it presents itself as a string or snake-like bulges on the skin especially on the feet and toes. Severe conditions will cause skin eruptions and lesions. Differential diagnosis is needed to correctly identify this parasitic disease because its symptoms could be similar to fungal infection or some other skin disorder. Other than itch CLM could also cause swelling and pain on the area affected. Fever may also occur.

Getting rid of the Parasite

The parasite’s life inside human hosts is limited because the larva is unable to complete its growth and development inside humans. Eventually the parasite will die but the intense itching and the risk of infection will necessitate treatment through medication. Oral meds and antibacterial ointments could be what the doctor will prescribe. As much as possible avoid walking barefoot even on the beach. Children are the most susceptible victims of Cutaneous Larva Migrans so parents and guardians should always take extra care to make sure that kids do not run around barefoot outdoors.

Prevent Itch by Maintaining Cleanliness

There are several reasons why the feet and toes itch. There are several types of medications too that the doctor will prescribe to treat this skin condition depending on the cause of the itch. Moreover there are also several home remedies that can work well along with doctor prescribed meds to manage the itch, treat the wounds caused by scratching, and treat infection too. In all the causes for itchy feet and toes the topmost preventive measure is to maintain personal hygiene.

Taking a bath daily, change and wear clean clothes every day, avoid borrowing or swapping personal items, washing the hands and feet with soap and water regularly, wear proper foot gear all the time either indoors or outdoors, maintaining a healthy lifestyle by eating the right kinds of food and avoid cigarette smoking are the top best practices in preventing complications that cause itchy feet and toes. Remember prevention is always better than cure.

It cannot be denied that having itchy feet and toes is frustrating, painful, inconvenient, and expensive. These are the reasons why it is important to take preventive measures to avoid getting the condition in the first place.


Journal of Investigative Dermatology


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