Cracked, itchy feet can be extremely uncomfortable and a potential source of embarrassment. In most cases, the cracked skin is little more than a nuisance, but in severe cases, it can lead to serious infection. Contact your physician if it becomes extremely bothersome or you experience bleeding.
Cracked, itchy feet have several potential causes. Athlete's foot, a contagious fungal infection medically known as tinea pedis, typically causes cracking between the toes but can affect the entire foot. The risk for athlete's foot increases if you sweat a lot, allow your feet to remain wet for prolonged periods or wear plastic-lined or closed-toe shoes. Cracked heels can also be a source of itchy discomfort. The New Zealand Dermatological Society explains that dry skin, psoriasis, dermatitis, diabetes and obesity increase the risk of cracked heels.
Diagnosing the cause of cracked, itchy feet typically involves a physical examination and a close look at your medical history. Be prepared to explain when you first noticed the problem and the conditions leading up to it, such as prolonged standing on a hard surface or use of open-backed, non-supportive shoes or physical contact with someone inflicted with athlete's foot. Your doctor may examine skin scrapings or fluid samples under a microscope to diagnose a fungal infection.
For cracked, itchy feet caused by dry skin, massaging moisturizers into the affected area two to three times a day may be enough. Stubborn cases may respond better to lotions or balms containing salicylic acid or alpha-hydroxy. In severe cases of cracked heels, your physician may prescribe stronger lotions or cut away the hard skin. Do not attempt to cut the skin yourself, as this can lead to infection. Athlete's foot is treated with over-the-counter or prescription-strength antifungal ointments. If the infection does not respond to topical treatments, your doctor may prescribe an oral antifungal medication.
To prevent athlete's foot, thoroughly dry your feet after showering, bathing or swimming, change your socks frequently, especially if you are sweating, use medicated or drying powders if you are susceptible to athlete's foot and wear well-ventilated shoes, suggests Medline Plus. Prevent dry, cracked heels by avoiding standing for long periods, especially in open-backed shoes, maintaining a healthy weight and moisturizing frequently.
Both athlete's foot and cracked heels can cause secondary bacterial infections such as cellulitis, especially if the fissures are deep enough to cause bleeding. Diabetic patients are at a higher risk for developing a foot ulcer, which can cause bone infection. Left untreated, a diabetic foot ulcer can lead to loss of limb. Contact your physician immediately if your cracked, itchy feet are causing pain or difficulty walking.