Causes of Painful Red Bumps on the Toes

A rash of painful, red bumps on the toes is a signal that should not be ignored. Any rash is the skin's response to an irritant that could be a fungus, bacteria, chemical, reaction to heat or, in some cases, a small itch mite. A red, bumpy rash can usually be cleared up quickly with over-the-counter medication, but sometimes it is indicative of something more serious that would require the attention of a medical professional.

Athlete's Foot

Athlete's foot is a very common fungal infection of the feet. According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, it can be picked up easily by walking barefoot in warm, moist areas, such as swimming pools, dressing rooms and showers. An athlete's foot infection can cause small, red, painful, blister-like bumps to appear on the toes. Athlete's foot can be treated with a variety of over-the-counter medications such as Tinactin and Lotrimin.

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis results from the skin coming in contact with an irritating substance, according to the National Institutes of Health. The irritating substance then causes an allergic reaction. Substances present in detergents, lotions, fabrics, fragrances, adhesives and some topical medications can all cause a contact dermatitis on the toes that appears as a red, painful, bumpy rash. Treatment would depend on the source of the irritant. The most important step is to remove any contact with the irritant and wash the toes thoroughly with warm water.

Heat Rash

Heat rash, also known as prickly heat, can be another cause of painful, red bumps on the toes, especially in hot weather when feet can get very sweaty inside shoes or closed-toe sandals. According to the Mayo Clinic, heat rash occurs when the sweat ducts in the skin become blocked and perspiration gets trapped. Heat rash is treated by decreasing sweating by letting the feet dry off and cool. Calamine lotion can be used to soothe the painful areas on the toes.


Folliculitis is an inflammation or infection of the hair follicles. It can appear as a painful, red, pimply rash on top of the toes where the hair grows. Friction from shoes, socks or shaving can break the hair off at the skin line, causing irritation. This irritation causes an inflammation around the hair follicle, usually followed by an infection. According to the National Institutes of Health, folliculitis is treated by applying warm, moist compresses and a topical antibiotic to the affected toes.


An infestation in the skin of the human itch mite, called scabies, can also cause a painful, red, bumpy rash on the toes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, scabies is a contagious infection that is spread by person-to-person contact in close areas. The itch mite burrows into the skin to lay its eggs, causing an allergic reaction. Scabies must be treated with a topical prescription cream, such as one containing 5 percent permethrin.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
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