Few sensations are more maddening than a serious case of itchy feet. This little tickle seems like it will never go away, especially when you’re in public and can’t get a good scratch in. Athlete’s foot is one of the most common causes of chronic foot itch, but there are several other possible culprits as well.
Athlete’s foot affects as many as 1 in 10 Americans. Symptoms of athlete’s foot include redness, scaling, peeling and cracking on the soles of the feet, as well as between the toes. It’s caused by coming into contact with the Trichophytan fungus, which particularly thrives on locker room floors and the ground surrounding swimming pools. Athlete’s foot remedies include reducing foot moisture and the use of over-the-counter anti-fungal medications for several weeks. It’s also recommended that you use the SteriShoe UV shoe sanitizer to kill up to 99.9% of the fungal spores in your shoes in one 45-minute cycle to prevent reinfection.
About 33% of diabetics suffer from some type of skin disorder, which can cause itchy feet. Peripheral neuropathy, a dysfunction of the nerves, may cause itchiness. Bacterial, fungal or yeast infections are more common in diabetics and often come with an itch of some sort. In the case of itchy feet at night, the culprit could be liver disease with a bile salt obstruction beneath the skin. Changes to the blood sugar often happen during the night, which is why the itching can be more intense at that time. Drugs like metformin, which are notoriously hard on the liver, could be contributing factors.
Dermatitis / Eczema
“Contact dermatitis” refers to an acute condition, whereas “eczema” refers to a chronic, recurring condition. Eczema affects about 10-20% of infants and 3% of the adult U.S. population. Symptoms of eczema include intense itching followed by the development of red, thick patches on the knees, wrists, hands, feet or face. The precise cause of eczema is unknown, but it’s believed to be an overreaction of the immune system. Triggers may include contact with certain plants, animal dander, household soaps and detergents, or exposure to extreme hot and cold. Sometimes steroid creams are used to combat the itch.
Exposure to the human itch mite can give a person scabies, an intensely itchy rash caused by the insect burrowing into the skin. Most commonly, this parasite is transferred from person to person by skin-on-skin contact. Upon close inspection, you’ll be able to see visible burrows and a red, bumpy rash. These markings may appear between the fingers, on the backs of elbows and knees, around the waist, near the nipples, on the feet, or in the buttocks / genital area. The itching is usually worse at night. Treatment for scabies includes the use of a scabicide lotion or cream prescribed by your doctor.
Cholestasis occurs in late pregnancy and triggers intense itching, usually on the hands and feet. It is caused by a slowed or stop flow of bile digestive fluid from the liver. Luckily, it does not pose a health risk to mother or baby. Pregnancy is not the only cause of cholestasis, however. Sometimes people on medications like terbinafine, estradiol, birth control pills, chloropromazine or antibiotics may suffer from cholestasis. Pancreatitis, stones in the bile duct, cysts, bacterial abscess in the liver, tuberculosis and hepatitis can also cause this condition. Treatment involves addressing the underlying cause, so it’s best to contact your physician. Other symptoms of cholestasis, in addition to itchy feet, may include: white or clay-colored stools, the inability to digest certain foods, nausea, vomiting, pain in the upper right abdomen and yellow skin or eyes.
Sometimes itchy feet are simply affected by dry skin. Harsh cleansers, vitamin deficiency, aging, the weather, or genetics can all play a role in the development of dry skin. Treatment includes the regular use of creams and lotions to prevent the skin from cracking and keep the skin hydrated.