Few symptoms are as maddening as itchiness, particularly when it involves the bottom of your feet. It's pretty tricky to covertly remove your shoes and scratch your feet while you're out and about.
Several conditions can cause this symptom, including a skin infection or infestation and contact with irritants, among others. See your healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment if you or your child experience itchy feet.
Athlete's foot is a leading contender for those itchy feet of yours. The condition occurs when fungus infects the superficial skin layers of your feet and toes. This contagious infection typically causes dry, scaly, itchy skin on the soles and/or sides of the feet, and between the toes. Less commonly, athlete's foot causes redness and blisters in the same areas.
You can usually treat athlete's foot at home with an over-the-counter antifunal product such as clotrimazole (Lotrimin), miconazole (Desenex), terbinafine (Lamisil) or tolnaftate (Tinactin). Your doctor might recommend a prescription antifungal medication for a persistent or severe bout of athlete's foot.
The fungi that cause athlete's foot thrive in warm, damp areas like showers, gyms, and locker rooms. Wearing flip-flops in public areas, not sharing towels, and keeping your feet dry can help stave off athlete's foot.
If you suddenly develop itchiness on the bottoms of your feet, it might signal a reaction to something in the soles or insoles of a new pair of shoes. Removable shoe inserts used to support your arch or adjust the fit of your shoes are another possible culprit.
This condition, known as contact dermatitis, occurs when skin inflammation or an allergic reaction develops in response to direct contact with an irritating substance. The offender could be a chemical in the material used to form a shole sole, insole or insert, or glue used to affix an insole.
Itchiness of your soles due to contact dermatitis typically goes away if you stop wearing the problematic shoes. If you continue to experience itchiness or it recurs, see your doctor, who might recommend allergy testing and/or medication.
If a foul odor accompanies your itchy foot bottoms, the cause might be a condition called pitted keratolysis (PK). This superficial bacterial infection involving the soles also causes a tiny, superficial skin erosions. Some people also experience a burning sensation.
Persistently sweaty or otherwise wet feet predispose you to the development of PK. This can happen if you work in conditions wherein your feet get wet frequently or wear footwear made of non-breathable materials like rubber or plastic.
Typical treatment for PK includes a topical antibiotic and measures to keep your feet dry, such as wearing moisture-wicking socks, choosing shoes that are well ventilated and/or made of breathable materials, and rotating your shoes so they can dry completely between uses.
There are other possible causes for itchy soles. Sweaty sock syndrome, or juvenile plantar dermatosis, is a consideration among children and tweens. An alternating cycle of foot wetness and drying damages the superficial skin the soles causes this noninfectious condition characterized by a red, scaly rash.
Keeping the feet dry and use of an emollient to prevent skin drying are the cornerstones of treatment for sweaty sock syndrome, which usually clears up permanently around the age of puberty.
Several other conditions are considerations if other areas of the body in addition to the soles of your feet exhibit itchiness, with or without an accompanying rash. These include:
- American Family Physician: Diagnosis and Management of Tinea Infections
- GP Online: Differential Diagnoses - Skin Conditions of the Feet
- Canadian Medical Association Journal: Pitted keratolysis: An Infective Cause of Foot Odour
- American Osteopathic College of Dermatology: Juvenile Plantar Dermatosis
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)