You can’t feel comfortable when you have itchy feet. Whereas the skin on the soles of your feet is tough and hardened, the skin between your toes of soft and supple – and prone to infection if not cared for properly. Dry, itchy skin between your toes is often a sign of a fungal infection. The infection can often be cleared using over-the-counter medications. If left untreated, the infection may spread to your toenails or other areas of your body, requiring more extensive treatment.
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The appearance of the skin between your toes may give clues as to the cause of the itching and redness. Red, dry skin that sloughs off may be a sign of a fungal infection such as athlete’s foot or ringworm. If you see a red rash with bumps, it may be a sign of scabies, which is caused by mites burrowing beneath the skin. See your doctor for an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment of itchy skin between your toes.
Feet and toes provide an ideal environment for fungi. The area between the toes is warm and often damp, and dead skin cells contain keratin as a food source for the fungi. Tinea pedis, also called athlete’s foot or ringworm, is the most common fungal infection between the toes. Scabies, or dermatophytes, may also cause a dry, itchy rash between the toes. Scabies are caused by mites burrowing beneath the skin.
Tinea pedis thrives in warm, damp areas, such as locker room floors and pool areas. The fungus spreads from person to person through direct contact with the rash and indirectly, for example, sharing towels or walking barefoot in public shower or locker room areas. Scabies are common in areas where people are in close contact, such as dorms, day care facilities or classrooms. The mites may also transfer to another person on clothing, sheets or towels.
Most fungal infections clear with over-the-counter creams or lotions. Fungal infections between the toes may cause the skin to crack, which can allow bacteria to enter the body and cause a secondary infection. Bacterial infections must be treated with antibiotic cream or oral medications. If left untreated, fungal infections easily spread to other toes and toenails. Widespread infection requires treatment with oral antifungal agents, such as griseofulvin. Scabies respond to prescription creams, but the itching may continue for several weeks after treatment begins.
Prevent fungal infections by drying your feet thoroughly after bathing and before dressing. Change socks once daily and wear socks made from a breathable fabric, such as cotton or wool. The best way to prevent scabies is to avoid direct contact with an infected person's skin. Avoid using brushes, towels or bedding used by the infected person as well.