Hot feet is a hot or burning feeling in the feet. This relatively common sensation often occurs at night and ranges from mild to severe.
Occasionally, hot feet can be accompanied by symptoms such as "pins and needles" (paresthesia), numbness, redness, and swelling. However, usually, there are no physical signs of hot feet.
This article discusses the causes of, and treatments for, hot feet.
Fast facts on hot feet:
- Hot feet can arise from factors such as a person's occupation or choice of footwear.
- Athlete's foot can cause hot, itchy, or burning feet.
- Wearing shoes or socks made from synthetic materials can also lead to hot feet.
- Often, treating the medical condition that causes the hot feet can relieve symptoms.
Causes of hot feetThere are several causes of hot feet, including:
Nerves require certain nutrients to function correctly. If the body cannot absorb nutrients, then the risk of nerve damage — and hot feet — increases. Deficiencies in folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B-12 can contribute to neuropathy.
According to research, malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies are associated with:
- alcohol abuse
- eating disorders
- lower economic status
- older age
One of the most common causes of hot feet is diabetic neuropathy.
This condition is caused by damage to the nerves and is a complication of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Along with burning sensations, symptoms include pain, tingling, and numbness in the arms, hands, legs, and feet.
Women who are pregnant may experience hot feet due to hormonal changes that increase body temperature. An increased load on the feet due to natural weight gain and an increase in total body fluid may also play a role in hot feet during pregnancy.
Menopause can cause hormonal changes that lead to increased body temperature and hot feet. Most women experience menopause between the ages of 45 and 55.
At any one time, it is estimated that 15 to 25 percent of people have athlete's foot, a common fungal infection.
Prompt treatment of this infection is important because it can spread to other areas of the body, as well as to other people.
Exposure to heavy metals
Being exposed to heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, or mercury, can cause a burning sensation in the feet and hands.
If levels of these substances build up in the body, they can reach toxic levels and begin to interfere with nerve function.
Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT)
In some people, this form of hereditary neuropathy can lead to hot or tingling feet. Affecting 1 in every 2,500 people in the United States, CMT is among the most commonly inherited neurological disorders.
Chronic kidney disease
Also known as uremia, chronic kidney disease results from damage to the kidneys. The organs are no longer able to remove toxins from the body through the urine. Over time, toxic build-up can cause neuropathy.
Having low levels of the thyroid hormone — a condition known as hypothyroidism — can lead to tingling, numbness, or pain in the feet, legs, arms, or hands. These sensations occur because having consistently low body levels of thyroid hormones leads to nerve damage.
HIV and AIDS
According to the Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy, some AIDS medications — including certain nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) — also cause neuropathy.
Another common cause of hot feet, excessive alcohol intake, can lead to nerve damage in the feet and other body parts, a condition known as alcoholic neuropathy.
This nerve damage occurs because alcohol interferes with the body's ability to absorb and use certain nutrients that are vital for proper nerve function. It also happens because alcohol is toxic to nerves in the body.
Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)
Guillain-Barré syndrome is caused when the immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system. Symptoms include varying degrees of numbness, tingling, and weakness in the legs and feet, and can involve the trunk and arms.
GBS is a rare disorder that affects 1 out of every 100,000 people. Men and women are equally prone to GBS.
Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP)
This neurological disorder is characterized by impaired sensory function and progressive weakness in the legs and arms over a long period of time. It can cause a tingling or burning sensation in the feet and hands.
Erythromelalgia is a rare condition that mainly affects the feet. It is characterized by intense pain, redness, and heat sensations in the feet and hands. Symptoms can occur continuously or periodically.
This condition, characterized by inflammation of blood vessels, can cause pain and tingling in the feet as blood cannot flow freely to the extremities. It can result in tissue damage.
In this inflammatory condition, small groups of inflammatory cells — called granulomas — grow on the body. If the skin or nervous system is affected, the feet may burn or feel hot.
Poor footwear and standing or walking for long periods of time, especially in hot temperatures, can lead to hot or burning feet.
The treatment for hot feet varies and depends on the underlying cause of the symptoms. Treatments can include:
Addressing the underlying medical condition
When, for example, hot feet is caused by diabetic neuropathy, regulating blood sugar levels may bring relief.
Hot feet caused by inflammatory and chronic conditions may be treated by managing the condition and following the prescribed treatment regimen.
Sometimes switching medications may help, as in the case of HIV medications that lead to neuropathy. It is important to only switch medications in consultation with a doctor.
If improper shoes, sweaty feet, or recurrent athlete's foot are causing hot feet, the following changes may help:
- Wear different shoes every other day to allow each pair to air out between wears.
- Ensure shoes fit properly and have good airflow. Use supportive inserts if necessary.
- Change socks regularly, especially after working out. Look for socks that wick moisture away from the skin, or choose natural cotton socks.
- Never wear damp socks or shoes.
- In warm weather, wear sandals that allow the feet to breathe.
- Wear flip-flops when using public pools and showers to reduce the risk of contracting athlete's foot or another foot infection.
- Use foot powder to absorb excess moisture from the feet. A range of foot powders are available to purchase online.
- Where possible, avoid prolonged periods of standing or walking.
- Cool down hot feet after a long day, or before bed, by placing them in a basin of cool water.
When should I see a doctor?
People who are experiencing hot feet on an ongoing basis, or whose hot feet are severe or accompanied by other symptoms, should see a doctor to pinpoint the underlying cause.
Where nerve damage is the cause, urgent treatment is necessary to stop the progression of the neuropathy.
Seek emergency medical treatment if:
- A hot or burning sensation in the feet comes on suddenly.
- Hot feet, or any other symptoms, arising from exposure to toxins.
- The burning sensation spreads up the legs.
- There is a loss of feeling in the toes or feet.