7 Common Foot Rashes

Having a rash on your foot can be alarming and uncomfortable, especially when you aren't sure what it is or what caused it. Causes of a foot rash can range from an infection to irritation to an allergic reaction. And different kinds of rashes often have similar characteristics.

When you notice a rash, it's important that you get to the bottom of what type it is so you can treat it effectively. If the rash is new, it's best to consult with a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis. You may be able to safely treat yourself (using your doctor-recommended method) if a harmless rash comes back. However, if you're unsure of what you have or if your rash worsens or persists, see your doctor.

Athlete's Foot

Athlete's foot
ProjectManhattan/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

Athlete's foot, also called tinea pedis, is an infection that is caused by a fungus that eats old skin cells.

Symptoms

Athlete's foot is an itchy and red rash that usually affects the soles of the feet and between the toes. Chronic athlete's foot causes a scaly rash that can be mistaken for dry skin, whereas acute athlete's foot can cause a painful, red, and blistering rash.

Causes

As the name implies, athlete's foot is common among athletes because the fungus is often found in warm, damp areas around pools and in public showers; it is often passed from foot-to-foot in locker rooms.

Other factors that increase your risk for athlete's foot include:

  • Sweating a lot
  • Keeping your feet wet for long periods or not changing out of sweaty socks
  • Wearing plastic-lined, closed-toed shoes
  • Minor skin or nail injuries

Treatment

If you suspect you have athlete's foot, treat it sooner rather than later. The longer you wait, the worse and more itchy the rash will become.

Mild forms of athlete's foot can usually be treated with anti-fungal powder or cream. However, if the infection doesn't clear up, your doctor may prescribe a stronger, oral anti-fungal medication.

Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac

Poison Ivy

Ed Reschke / Getty Images

Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac rashes are blistering skin rashes causes by coming into contact with the oily sap found on these common plants.

Symptoms

The main symptom of poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac rashes is an itchy and blistering rash that begins to develop 12 to 72 hours after coming into contact with the oil.

Swelling or trouble breathing are signs of a serious reaction that requires immediate medical care.

Causes

Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac have an oil in their leaves, stems, roots and fruit called urushiol. If you are sensitive to it, which most people are, you can get a rash on the skin that comes into contact with any part of these plants.

Treatment

If you have a non-severe poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac rash, it will usually go away on its own in one to three weeks without treatment. In this case, the best course of treatment is to relieve the itching so you aren't tempted to scratch the rash, which can lead to infection. A few ways to treat a rash from a poison plant include:

  • Apply an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream
  • Apply a cold compress to the rash
  • Use a skin protectant (e.g., calamine, zinc acetate, zinc carbonate, zinc oxide) to dry out the rash and stop oozing
  • Use a skin protectant (baking soda, colloidal oatmeal) to relieve minor irritation and itching

If you have a severe reaction, your doctor will prescribe a steroid ointment or oral prednisone. In the case of an infection, you will be prescribed an antibiotic.

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

Portrait of a Male Toddler Experiencing Hand Mouth and Foot Disease

Jill Lehmann Photography / Getty Images

Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is a common viral infection that usually affects children below the age of 5. While less common, it is also possible for older children and adults to contract HFMD.

Symptoms

The first symptoms of HFMD are usually a fever, reduced appetite, sore throat, and a general feeling of being unwell. In one to two days, a rash on the soles of the feet and palms of the hands may develop, as well as painful sores inside the mouth.

However, not everyone experiences all symptoms of HFMD, and some people may not exhibit any symptoms at all.

Causes

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is most commonly caused by coming in contact with an enterovirus called coxsackievirus A16. In some cases, mostly outside of the United States, HFMD is caused by enterovirus 71.

The viruses that caused HFMD can be found in the feces, saliva, phlegm, and nasal mucus of an infected person, as well as in the blister fluid from a HFMD rash. You can contract HFMD by coming into contact with any of these substances, as well as through close contact, breathing in infected air, and contact with contaminated objects.

Treatment

There is no specific treatment for HFMD—or vaccine to prevent it—but if your child or you contract HFMD, over-the-counter medications to relieve pain and fever (NSAIDs) can help with the symptoms.* Mouthwashes and sprays designed to numb mouth pain can also be helpful.

In some cases, mouth sores can make it painful to swallow. If dehydration occurs, intravenous fluids may be necessary.

*Note that children should never be given aspirin due to the risk of Reye's syndrome.

Cellulitis

Cellulitis on a womans leg

DR P. MARAZZI/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images

Cellulitis is a serious bacterial skin infection that can form on your foot (or any part of your body) when bacteria enter through a break in the skin.

Symptoms

The main symptom of cellulitis is a painful rash with red and tender skin that may blister and then scab. You may also experience a fever, chills, swollen glands, or swollen lymph nodes from the infection.

Sometimes bacterial infections like cellulitis are mistaken for athlete's foot because they have a similar red and painful rash.

Causes

Cellulitis is most commonly caused by group A streptococcal bacteria entering the skin through any injury—even just a small, seemingly-harmless break in the skin. On your feet, bacteria can also enter through ingrown toenails.

Treatment

Cellulitis can spread quickly and requires immediate care. A healthcare provider will usually swab your skin or do a blood test to find out what kind of bacteria is causing the infection. This can help them determine what kind treatment is most appropriate.

You will be treated with oral antibiotics in more mild cases, or intravenous (IV) antibiotics in severe cases. Your doctor will ask you to monitor the size of the rash to ensure it is clearing up and not still spreading after treatment.

Dyshidrotic Eczema

Eczema

MION/PHANIE / Getty Images

Dyshidrotic eczema is a common form of eczema that affects the soles of the feet, toes, palms, and fingers. It is more common in women than in men and frequently occurs during the spring allergy season.

Other names for dyshidrotic eczema include dyshidrosis, foot-and-hand eczema, cheiropompholyx, pompholyx, vesicular eczema, and palmoplantar eczema.

Symptoms

While all forms of eczema cause itching and redness, dyschidrotic eczema has some unique features, including:

  • Painful and itchy deep-set blisters on the soles of the feet, toes, palms, and fingers
  • Redness
  • Flaking
  • Scaly, cracked skin

Causes

People with hay fever, contact dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, or a close family member with dyschidrotic eczema are most at risk for developing the condition.

It can be triggered by a number of things including pollen, stress, and moisture on the feet or hands from excessive sweating or prolonged contact with water. Consuming or touching nickel, cobalt, or chromium salts can also trigger dyschidrotic eczema.

Treatment

Treatment for dyshidrotic eczema can include soaking the feet (or hands) in cool water several times a day before applying a rich moisturizer or skin barrier repair cream. You can also use a cold compress to cool the affected area instead.

In more severe cases, a healthcare provider may want to drain the blisters or give a Botox injection in the hands or feet to reduce wetness from sweating. You may be prescribed topical steroids, topical calcineurin inhibitors (TCIs), or phototherapy to clear the rash.

Shoe Contact Dermatitis

Shoe contact dermatitis is a rash caused by an allergic reaction to your shoes or socks.

Symptoms

Shoe contact dermatitis is generally an itchy and peeling rash on the balls of the feet, bottom of the toes, or heels. The rash bumps may also blister.

Causes

There are a number of possible allergens that can be present in the rubber, adhesives, leather, dyes, or metals used to make your shoes. Chromate salts used as tanning agents on leather products and various kinds of rubber compounds are common allergens that can cause shoe contact dermatitis.

Treatment

If you have an allergic reaction to your shoes, the first step of treatment will be to minimize contact the the allergen. This can be frustrating, especially if you've just purchased the shoes you have an allergic reaction to, but it's important for the health of the skin on your feet and will avoid further irritation.

The reaction will typically clear up on its own. A cool compress and/or anti-itch (e.g., hydrocortisone or calamine) cream can make you feel more comfortable from the itching.

Scabies

Illustration of a scabies mite on human skin.

SCIEPRO/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images 

Scabies is a skin condition caused by mites (sarcoptes scabiei). It is very contagious and can quickly spread from person to person in areas of close physical contact, such as a school or hospital.

Symptoms

Symptoms of scabies include intense itching and a pimple-like skin rash that can affect various parts of the body, including the feet.

Symptoms can take four to eight weeks to develop. During this time you can still transmit scabies to others.

Causes

Scabies is caused by coming into skin-to-skin contact with someone who has scabies. It can also be spread by touching or sharing clothing, towels, or bedding of someone with the condition. It can also sometimes be sexually acquired.

Treatment

Treatment is recommended not only for the person who has scabies, but also for anyone living in their household, sexual partners, and anyone else they regularly have skin-to-skin contact with. The steps for treatment include:

  • Decontaminating bedding, clothing, and towels: This can be done by washing in hot water and drying in a hot dryer, by dry cleaning, or by sealing items in a plastic bag for 72 hours, as mites will die after a couple days without skin contact.
  • Head-to-toe use of prescription scabicide (permethrin) lotion or cream that kills mites and/or their eggs

Everyone being treated should undergo treatment at the same time to prevent re-infestation. If itching still occurs more than four weeks after treatment, it may be necessary to repeat the treatment steps.

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