Contact dermatitis refers to the skin’s allergic reaction to a substance, including lotions or cosmetics, jewelry, plants, household chemicals, and other substances. Typically, dermatitis shows up as an itchy rash in the area where you were exposed to an allergen. If your feet itch, for instance, you might be allergic to the material of your socks or shoes or a powder you used to keep your feet dry.
In addition to an itchy rash, you may also experience additional symptoms of contact dermatitis:
Contact dermatitis usually clears up on its own once you identify and remove the allergen. However, sometimes this is difficult – especially if you are allergic to something that is frequently used in socks, shoes, or foot products. Additionally, sometimes dermatitis can trigger an infection or other complications that require treatment. A foot and ankle specialist can help you find the cause of your foot irritation.
If you’ve only recently started having an itchy rash or other skin symptoms involving your feet, it’s a good idea to ask yourself if you’ve tried any new products on your feet recently, such as lotions, soaps, socks, or shoes. If so, discontinuing the use of this product is an excellent way to test if it was causing your issues. However, if the allergen is something common, your symptoms may return repeatedly. It’s also possible to become allergic to something you never reacted to before, which can lead to more confusion.
When it comes to shoes, there are multiple potential triggers for dermatitis, including:
Additionally, many people react to dyes used in socks, especially if they wear a new pair without washing them first. Even if the socks are washed, sometimes dyes remain and cause irritation, or the fabric itself is the problem.
Occasionally, the allergic reaction may stem from something you were exposed to briefly. For example, if you walked through poison ivy, some of the urushiol (the plant oil that causes itching) may have rubbed off on your shoes or any exposed skin on your feet. If this is the case, you could be re-exposed each time you put your shoes on without realizing it. When this happens, it’s best to get rid of the shoes. Poison ivy is common in wooded areas around Sandy, and it’s helpful to learn to identify and avoid it.
Anyone can experience contact dermatitis, but some people have an expanded risk due to their job or environmental exposure. Some higher-risk professions include:
Yes, this is a common source of confusion because the two conditions have similar symptoms. They both can cause itching, redness, peeling or cracking skin, and burning on the feet. Athlete’s foot symptoms most frequently appear in the spaces between toes, but they sometimes affect the top of the feet or soles as well. However, contact dermatitis also sometimes appears in these areas.
Unfortunately, the treatments for contact dermatitis and Athlete’s Foot are very different. Dermatitis requires identifying and removing the source and treating the local allergic reaction, while Athlete’s Foot is treated with topical anti-fungal medication. People who self-treat for Athlete’s Foot may find that their symptoms continue or worsen if they have dermatitis because anti-fungal medicine will do nothing to relieve an allergic reaction. Conversely, if you use an over-the-counter itch cream for Athlete’s Foot, you will not be treating the underlying fungal infection, and this can also get worse.
For these reasons, we recommend seeking treatment from a foot and ankle specialist for any foot rash or irritation that lasts more than a few days, causes severe symptoms, or shows signs of infection (such as pus). Dermatitis symptoms often overlap with symptoms of bacterial or fungal infections that affect the feet or other skin conditions, so diagnosing yourself is not recommended. A foot and ankle specialist will examine the foot rash or skin problem, ask questions about your symptoms, and conduct tests as needed to determine if the issue is an allergy, an infection, or another condition like lichen planus. Once the correct diagnosis is made, you can get the treatment you need to feel better and stop itching.
If your doctor has narrowed your condition down to dermatitis, they may run an additional test to learn if you are reacting to an irritant or an allergen and which one. This is called a “patch test,” in which your foot will be exposed to small amounts of common allergens found in shoes, socks, and other foot products. These are applied in small, isolated patches, giving the test its name. When the doctor sees which substance or substances have caused a reaction in a specific patch, they will know what you’re allergic to.
Your podiatrist will then help you figure out how to best avoid the allergen in the future. For instance, they might recommend specific kinds of shoes or socks that are unlikely to contain the substance. Also, the doctor may prescribe a treatment to help reduce the itching and skin irritation in the meantime, such as anti-itch ointments or creams, or topical steroids. If the allergic reaction has caused an infection, the foot specialist might also advise you to use an antibiotic ointment.
Dr. Elizabeth Auger, DPM, has been assisting patients in the Salt Lake City area with foot and ankle concerns for more than 24 years. She graduated from the Pennsylvania College of Podiatric Medicine (PCPM) and completed three years of in-depth foot surgery and wound care training during her medical residency. Now Board Certified in Podiatric Medicine by The American Board of Lower Extremity Surgery and a member of the College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, Dr. Auger treats a variety of foot and ankle conditions. She is experienced in diagnosing and treating foot rashes and skin conditions and will ensure you receive the right treatment for your condition.
If you’re experiencing an itchy, painful foot rash that won’t go away or is causing you intense symptoms, please contact Dr. Auger’s office today. Our office staff will schedule you for the next available appointment – often, we can get you in the same day! Our staff members are also happy to help with questions about insurance coverage. The sooner you come in for a consultation, the sooner you can receive a diagnosis and treatment for your foot irritation.