Itchy feet during the day can be annoying. (How am I supposed to get a good scratch with my socks and shoes on?!) But itchy feet at night can be downright excruciating, especially if it's stopping you from sleeping.
Usually the problem is related to a skin condition, notes Marisa Garshick, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Cornell-New York Presbyterian Medical Center. Eczema, dry skin, common irritants and fungal infections like athlete's foot are some of the most likely offenders.
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But they're not the only culprits, and in some cases, persistently itchy feet could be a sign of a serious problem. Here's are some of the most common reasons your feet may be itchy at night and what you can do to find relief.
Why Is It So Itchy at Night?
Sometimes feet can itch only at night or more noticeably at night. This is usually due to the fact that you're lying down and are not distracted by daytime activity. Regardless of the cause of the itch, this lack of distraction can make itching a bigger problem at night.
1. Your Eczema Is Acting Up
"Eczema is one of the most common causes of itchy feet, and it's very common to experience itching at night," Dr. Garshick says. Skin that's affected by eczema tends to be dry, scaly and tight, but it's also common to notice symptoms like redness, burning or crusting. In some cases, eczema on the soles of the feet or the edges of the toes can also cause itchy blisters, according to the National Eczema Association (NEA).
Fix it: Start by steering clear of irritants that cause your eczema to flare up. Common culprits include hot, humid weather or sweaty feet, according to the NEA. Next, regularly apply a ceramide-rich ointment or cream to restore your skin's barrier and heal cracks, which will lock in moisture and reduce itching. Try CeraVe Healing Ointment ($10.49, Amazon) or one of these expert-recommended picks.
Other treatment options include steroid ointments and prescription anti-inflammatory non-steroidal topicals.
2. You Have Dry Skin
Just like the skin on the rest of your body, the skin on your feet can get dry from exposure to cold or harsh weather, dry indoor air or even too much sun. And when your tootsies are low on moisture, you might notice your skin is tight, flaky or itchy.
Fix it: Moisturize your feet before bed to keep your skin hydrated while you sleep, so you're not itchy. Try a thick ointment like Vaseline Original Petroleum Jelly ($1.79, Target). "It can be especially helpful to apply moisturizer and then put on socks or wrap feet in plastic wrap to help lock in the moisture," Dr. Garshick says. These hydrating habits can also be helpful.
3. You Have Athlete's Foot
Fungal infections like athlete's foot can give you a rash that's red, itchy or straight up painful. Spread by skin-to-skin contact or contact with an infected surface, the problem most often hits in between the toes, but it can also strike the soles, tops or sides of the feet, per the Cleveland Clinic.
One of the most common types of foot fungus, tinea pedis, is nicknamed "moccassin" because it creates a rash that affects the parts of your feet that a moccassin slipper would touch.
Fix it: Over-the-counter antifungal creams like Lotrimin Ultra ($13.89, Target.com) or Lamisil AT Cream for Athlete's Foot ($14.49, Amazon.com) can clear the infection and stop the itching and discomfort. "In general, they should be applied one to two times daily for two to four weeks," Dr. Garshick says. Other remedies for athlete's foot: Keep your feet cool and dry (go barefoot when you can) and try not to scratch. Doing so can cause the infection to spread.
4. Your Skin Is Irritated by an Allergen
Itching, redness, swelling and hive-like bumps on your feet could be signs of contact dermatitis, a common reaction that can occur when skin comes into contact with an irritant or allergen. "Some people may experience an allergy to leather or rubber, which can be found in shoes. Alternatively it could be related to adhesives or dyes used in the shoes," Dr. Garshick says.
Fix it: For initial treatment, start by ditching the shoes or any other thing that you suspect might be irritating your feet (like new socks, new detergent used to wash your socks or a new foot lotion). It might take a few weeks for your skin to totally calm down, but in the meantime, you'll get some itch relief with an OTC anti-itch cream like Benadryl Extra Strength Itch Stopping Gel ($7.59, Target).
It's a good idea to meet with an allergist or dermatologist who can perform patch testing to determine what's causing your reaction.
5. Your Psoriasis Is Acting Up
For some people, psoriasis can be confined to the palms of the hands or soles of the feet. The autoimmune condition, which can be triggered by a skin injury or infection, will typically leave the skin on the bottom of your feet red, dry and thickened, with deep cracks that are painful or itchy.
Fix it: Psoriasis management usually calls for a combination approach, Dr. Garshick says. An OTC topical steroid like Cortisone 10 Intensive Healing Lotion for Eczema ($10.99, Target.com) can ease redness and itching during a flare-up. Your dermatologist might also recommend prescription oral meds like Otezla (Apremilast) to keep the inflammation under control.
6. You Have Bed Bugs
Notice a bunch of mosquito bite-like marks on your feet or elsewhere — but haven't been in areas where they might have been mosquitoes? It's possible that you could be dealing with bed bugs. These small, brown, oval-shaped bugs can make their way into your home in luggage or clothing, take up residence in your mattress and feed on your blood while you sleep. (Ick.)
You might not feel bed bugs while they're actually biting you, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But by the next morning, the bites can start to become itchy and red. Bed bug bites typically appear as three bites in a row and are not likely to be confined to the feet; you probably will have them other places, too.
Fix it: Bed bugs aren't dangerous, but they're definitely gross and annoying. You can treat itchy bites by applying an antiseptic cream like Benadryl Extra Strength Itch Stopping Gel ($9.69, Target) or by taking an OTC antihistamine, per the CDC. (These natural remedies might also be helpful.) But you'll need to spray your space with insecticide to actually get rid of the critters.
7. You Have Restless Leg Syndrome
Most people know restless leg syndrome or RLS as a condition that causes an uncontrollable urge to move your legs — especially at night. But the sensation can also be accompanied by pain, twitching, throbbing or itching in the legs or feet.
Fix it: See your doctor if you have symptoms of RLS. Sometimes the problem can be managed by addressing an underlying condition like an iron deficiency, says the Mayo Clinic. RLS can also be treated with prescription medications including dopamine boosters, muscle relaxants and calcium channel blockers.
When to See a Doctor for Itchy Feet
Itchy feet aren't usually serious, and you can often get relief with at-home measures. But in some cases, prolonged foot itchiness could be a sign of serious conditions including undermanaged diabetes or liver or kidney problems. If you're pregnant, intense itching could also signal complications such as cholestasis of pregnancy.
"If the itching isn't responding to over-the-counter treatments, or if it's very uncomfortable or impacting your quality of life, speak with your doctor," Dr. Garshick recommends.
Sometimes It's Not a Skin Condition
There are cases when itchy feet are not due to a medical condition and actually result from normal changes. Your body's circadian rhythm can cause changes in body or skin temperature, blood flow, hormones, inflammatory signals and sweating. If your feet itch and you do not have a rash or dry skin, this may explain the itching.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.