Sweaty, Smelly & Itchy Feet: Causes and Treatments

Do you suffer from Sweaty, smelly of itchy feet? Do you have the urge to itch between your toes?

What causes itchy feet?

Did you know in a pair of feet there are 250,000 sweat glands?

No wonder your feet can get sweaty, itchy and smelly at times!

There are many causes of itchy feet or toes, including fungal infections such as athlete’s foot, various skin conditions, certain health conditions and allergic reactions. Some are caused by skin to skin contact, genetic factors or walking barefoot in public areas. Don’t forget the climate you live in can also affect your skin and the modern use of heaters and air conditioners may dry your skin faster than normal.

While you can have itchy skin anywhere on your body, your feet are more prone to it due to moisture and heat building up in shoes and coming into contact with more irritants. Your feet also don’t have any oil glands, meaning they dry out faster.


Some medical conditions such as thyroid dysfunction, liver disease and kidney disease can contribute to you experiencing itchy feet. These conditions are known to cause dry skin, scaly skin or cracked skin on your feet, but can also cause itchy hands or itchy palms.

Pruritus gravidarum during pregnancy causes itchy hands and feet due to the increase in estrogen levels. Hormonal fluctuations involving estrogen during pregnancy or menopause increase your likelihood of experiencing this symptom.

Neuropathy or nerve damage can lead to itchy feet as well, the medical term for this is neuropathic itch. Undergoing treatment for cancer can also cause itchy feet.

Chilblains occur when your toes are cold and the blood vessels close to the surface narrow to preserve warmth. If the body and in particular these blood vessels warm up too quickly (like when you stick your feet close to the heater in winter) the blood vessels expand too quickly and blood can leak into the surrounding area. This gives the toes a red and swollen appearance and can be incredibly itchy.

Skin conditions

Certain skin conditions can also contribute to itching feet. Tinea pedis, also known as athlete’s foot, is a highly contagious fungal infection. This particular fungal infection is more prevalent if you have hot and sweaty feet.

Conditions such as eczema or atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, secondary bacterial infections and dyshidrotic eczema affect the skin layers resulting in irritation. This can occur anywhere on your body, not just your feet. This can contribute to changes such as dry skin, itchy bumps, scaly rash, peeling skin or other skin complications.

Watch for bugs and insects in the area as some people can react to bites such as ants, lice and scabies.

Exposure to irritants

Contact dermatitis or an allergic reaction are caused through skin contact to chemicals found in things like washing detergent, fabric dye, perfume or cosmetics. Other potential irritants can include things like jewellery or poison ivy. These reactions usually produce a localised reaction on the body where contact was made and can resolve fairly quickly once the irritant has been removed. Try to avoid itching the area during the treatment process.

Medications can also have a similar effect. These include some pain relief medication(opioids), medication for high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Why do some people suffer from itchy feet while others don’t?

Anyone can get sweaty feet, regardless of the temperature or time of the year. However, you are more likely to get sweaty feet if you have been on your feet all day, if you are under a lot of stress or if you have a medical condition called hyperhidrosis, which makes you sweat more than normal.

Not all sweaty feet are accompanied with a bad odour. Fungal skin infections such as athlete’s foot can be the leading cause of smelly feet. A cheesy odour is released as the bacteria on the skin decomposes sweat. Fungi thrive in warm, dark environments such as your shoes, creating prime conditions to grow and then spread.

What are the symptoms and signs of itchy feet?

Tinea pedis or athlete’s foot usually present with an itchy rash, itching or peeling skin, blistering and cracked skin which can be uncomfortable.

Other symptoms or signs can range depending on the person and their medical history however may include itchy skin, scaly rash, dry skin, itchy bumps or scaly skin.

Best Treatments for Itchy Feet

If you get excessively sweaty, itchy or smelly feet it is a good idea to see one of our podiatrists to discuss treatment options available and prevent it happening again. Our podiatrists will provide medical advice and may recommend a topical antifungal cream to address Tinea, if present. Prevention can include:

  • Changing your shoes and socks regularly
  • Drying in between your toes after showering
  • Expose the skin to as much air as possible
  • Wear natural fibre socks such as cotton
  • Use antiperspirants to control excessive sweating
  • Thursday plantation tea tree oil/spray http://www.thursdayplantation.com/product-categories/australia/the-essentials-100-pure-oils/tea-tree-oil
  • Over the counter anti fungal treatment applied to the affected area helps to treat itchiness
  • Mild soap or calamine lotion can help repair irritated skin like eczema
  • Home remedies can include a wet cloth or ice pack, this provides a cooling sensation and reduces itchiness
  • Avoid itching the affected area as this can cause further damage to the skin and lead to spreading
  • On occasion steroid creams or prescription medications may be required after seeking professional medical advice

How can I prevent itchy feet?

Moisture can build up in regularly worn shoes like work boots or sport shoes. If the shoes are not given adequate time to dry out between use, it can increase your likelihood of developing tinea or athlete’s foot. Having a 2nd pair of shoes and alternating daily can help prevent moisture and fungal infections. Changing socks half way through the day is also beneficial.

Wearing thongs or water shoes around public swimming pools, change rooms and gyms can decrease your chance of contracting athlete’s foot. Regularly checking your feet after attending these areas can help identify if you require treatment.

Avoid wearing shoes without socks or hosiery to prevent athlete’s foot and the chance of contact dermatitis. By having a layer between your skin and the shoe, helps to remove moisture, and any potential fungal infections from your shoes. Otherwise, it is recommended to treat your shoes with an antifungal spray.

Avoiding sudden changes to the temperature of your feet and toes is best to prevent chilblains.

Seeking treatment early when you notice symptoms can aid to relieve itchiness before it has a chance to spread and cause further skin irritation.

When to see a professional

Professional medical advice is recommended if you have persistent itchiness or scaly areas that are not responding to topical over the counter treatments and good foot hygiene. Receiving medical attention to identify which skin condition you have can speed up your recovery and rule out other risk factors.

You don’t need to put up with itchy feet! Let our podiatrists help you find relief today.

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