Some of the most common forms of eczema on the feet are contact dermatitis and dyshidrotic eczema. Symptoms can range from itchy, tender fluid-filled bumps to scaly patches on the top of the feet or ankles.
Eczema refers to a group of skin conditions that cause itchiness and inflamed areas of skin which can also present with blistering or rough or cracked skin.
There are multiple types of eczema, but only certain forms occur more often on the feet.
Numerous external and internal factors can contribute to a flare of eczema, such as:
- scented products
- preservative in shoes
- elastic or certain materials in socks
- emotional factors such as stress
- environmental conditions such as sweaty feet
This article will explain eczema on the feet, who it affects, and the different types of eczema. We also examine the different symptoms, treatments, potential triggers, remedies, and prevention.
Eczema can occur all over the body, from the scalp to the feet. The location of the symptoms will depend on the type of eczema diagnosed in the individual. 31.6 million people in the United States have some form of eczema.
Forms of eczema that occur on feet or hands can develop before or during adulthood. This means that a person may experience flare-ups that come and go with certain triggers.
Depending on the type of eczema, it can occur on different parts of the feet, including:
- contact irritant dermatitis or status dermatitis usually occurs on the tops of the feet
- dyshidrotic eczema is usually on the soles of the feet or between the toes
- statis dermatitis occurs on the legs but also on the tops of the feet
Different types of eczema can affect the feet, including:
Allergic contact dermatitis is the most common form of eczema in all ages.
When allergic contact dermatitis occurs on the feet, the rash is almost always on the top of the feet. The rash is not contagious but can result in discomfort. It appears as a hyperpigmented itchy, scaly patch or sometimes starts with blistering that also is very itchy.
Contact with a particular substance or an allergic reaction usually causes this eczema.
Signs and symptoms can include:
- an itchy rash
- blisters or bumps, often with crusting
- swelling and tenderness
People with lighter skin tones usually experience red patches, whereas darker skin may become dark brown, purple, or gray.
Read more about eczema on black skin.
Treatment and prevention
Treatment for allergic contact dermatitis usually involves applying topical steroid creams or emollients to the skin.
Doctors will also recommend removing the presence of anything that may trigger an adverse reaction in a person with eczema.
The following substances used in hardening leather can cause allergic contact dermatitis on the feet, such as:
Examples of components that often cause a foot rash, include:
- rubber, especially naturally occurring rubber, such as latex
Nickel found in buckles on shoes can cause also allergic dermatitis.
Other chemicals that cause allergic contact dermatitis include:
- black rubber mix
- thiuram mix
Common allergens that can cause allergic contact dermatitis may include the topical medications people apply directly to their skin, such as topical corticosteroids, or antifungal creams which can sometimes trigger a skin reaction.
People should see a provider who can administer an allergen test to help identify common product allergens.
Learn more about triggers and treatments for contact dermatitis.
Dyshidrotic eczema, which doctors also call Pompholyx, is a form of eczema that occurs only on the hands and feet. A flare-up can last for 3–4 weeks. This type of eczema is often chronic with external and internal triggering the flares.
Whether it develops on the hands, feet, or both, dyshidrotic eczema can cause the following symptoms:
- a burning or prickling sensation in the affected area
- small and itchy fluid-filled blisters can occur on the edges of the toes, and the bottom of the feet
- dry, scaly skin in the same place as the previous blisters, which may be peeling
The bumps usually appear pink on lighter skin. People with darker skin may see dark spots linger where blisters once were.
A person may experience an infection if the skin becomes damaged by scratching.
Treatment and prevention
Dyshidrotic eczema on the feet tends to get worse with factors, such as:
- certain metals, especially nickel or cobalt
- scented products or ingredients, such as in soaps
- changes in weather and temperature
- a skin infection, such as athlete’s foot
The best way to prevent flares is to avoid these triggers. However, other causes may not be preventable; for example, people who already have atopic dermatitis may develop dyshidrotic eczema.
Doctors may create a treatment plan which can include any of the following:
- Soaks or cool compresses: Certain types of soaks can effectively dry blisters. People can apply these 2–4 times a day for 15 minutes.
- Regular bathing routine in natural remedies: Bathing the affected areas can help moisturize the skin. People can include natural ingredients such as oatmeal or Epsom salt.
- Corticosteroid cream: People can apply this cream directly to their skin. These are medicated creams that reduce inflammation of blister sites.
- Moisturizers: These creams help repair broken skin barriers and lock in moisture to the skin.
Stasis dermatitis often affects the feet or lower legs on one or both sides. It can appear on other areas of the body, but this is not very common.
Most people develop stasis dermatitis when they have poor circulation in their lower legs.
Stasis dermatitis can cause the following symptoms to appear on the skin:
- deep pigmentation
- hardened areas
- intense itching
A person may also experience raised, discolored, and scaly patches of skin. People will notice redness in lighter skin tones which appears brown, purple, gray, or ashen in darker skin tones.
If left untreated, stasis dermatitis causes swelling beyond the ankle to the calf, and the skin becomes shiny. Open sores, called venous ulcers, can form on the lower legs and tops of feet. These can result in bleeding or oozing and may leave scarring once healed.
A dermatologist will examine any wounds or sores on a person’s skin.
Doctors base the treatment plan for stasis dermatitis on a person’s specific symptoms, including:
To help reduce swelling a person can:
- apply topical corticosteroids
- wear compression socks all-day
- elevate legs above heart level for 15 minutes every 2 hours
- have a massage, but they should check with their specialist first to ensure there are no further risks
Elevating legs and wearing compression socks can also benefit a person’s blood flood to their legs and feet.
Doctors may also recommend physical therapy for further treatment.
If a person has wounds on their legs or feet that require treatment, a dermatologist may prescribe a medicated bandage.
A person may also adopt routine wound care using saline and apply topical medications.
Some wounds may be more difficult than others to treat, so it is important that a person follows a dermatologist’s recommendations.
A doctor may prescribe an oral or topical antihistamine to reduce itching in the affected area.
Some possible irritants include:
- Sweat: Prolonged dampness from sweating on the feet can
- Friction: Rubbing the affected area can worsen by wearing socks or shoes.
- Stress: This
increasesthe risk of eczema flare-ups and the risk of infection. Stress symptoms may manifest across the body.
- Cold and dry weather: Dampness, as well as hot weather, can increase flares, whereas, for others, it may improve it. For example, if a person walks barefoot or on surfaces with different temperatures. People should consult a dermatologist to determine their skin type and potential triggers.
- Chemicals: Certain irritants, such as soaps and washing detergents, can aggravate symptoms of eczema on the body.
Depending on the cause of eczema, treatments may vary slightly. A doctor will request:
- a full personal history
- past medical history
- other symptoms
- family history of skin disorders
- personal products
- common footwear
However, whatever form of eczema a person has, the aim will be to reduce itching during a flare and restore moisture to the affected area. The earlier the treatment, the more chance of it being effective.
Some ways people can reduce the chances of developing eczema on the feet include:
- keeping feet hydrated by applying moisturizer after showering or bathing
- identifying any allergens through an allergen test
- reducing stress levels by regularly exercising or establishing a relaxation exercise
- regularly bathing feet to limit the buildup of dead skin and bacteria
A person should also try to avoid the trigger, such as changing socks to cotton ones, and if there is a certain preservative in shoes, they should change them.
Eczema can occur in different body areas, and people may also experience symptoms on parts of their feet. The types of eczema that can occur on the feet will have similar symptoms and causes to other affected areas.
There is a wealth of available treatments to help lessen symptoms of foot eczema; however, catching it early will increase the effectiveness of any prescribed treatment.
Possible treatments include moisturizing creams and oral medication. These help tackle symptoms on the skin’s surface and inside the body.
Home remedies such as regular washing and moisturizing can help reduce symptoms. It is helpful to seek an allergen test from a healthcare professional, as this can often help with treatment options and prevent future flare-ups.