Foot rash: What are the common causes?

By Dr. Anna H. Chacon, MD, Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology May 06, 2022 • 5 min

Human feet are particularly susceptible to rashes, largely because people typically keep their feet covered much of the time. You may not be aware of signs of a foot rash initially until you begin to experience bothersome symptoms. It can be helpful to understand the common causes of foot rash and know when to see your healthcare provider.

Common causes of foot rashes

Foot rashes can occur due to a number of reasons. A rash on the top of the foot or red spots on the feet may be caused by an allergic reaction to a plant like poison ivy. These symptoms may also be caused by detergents or dyes on socks or shoes, or the chemical agents used in the manufacturing process. 

Athlete’s foot is one of the most common causes of a rash on the foot. A fungal foot rash, like athlete’s foot, may cause scaly, dry or peeling skin on the bottoms of the feet.  

Skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis can cause a foot rash that may look similar to athlete’s foot. Some insect bites can cause red bumps or spots on feet. 

Types of foot rash

There are a number of different dermatophytes, which are fungi that need keratin present in the skin to grow. Keratin is a protein found in skin, hair and nails. Dermatophytes usually require a warm place with a lot of moisture to successfully take hold, making the human foot especially vulnerable.

Athlete’s foot: Also known as tinea pedis, athlete's foot is a fungal foot rash. It can be contracted by walking barefoot in community spaces, such as a community shower or locker room, where fungus spores have been left behind by someone with this type of foot infection. An athlete’s foot rash often starts with itchy, cracking skin between the toes, which may move to the soles of the feet. 

Multiple fungi can cause moccasin athlete's foot, a specific type of athlete’s foot that causes fine, dry scales on the bottoms of the feet. The skin beneath is usually pink and tender. Moccasin-type athlete’s foot is less common than other types of athlete’s foot, and it can spread to other parts of the foot, including toenails. Athlete’s foot, in general, can spread to other parts of the body. It’s often mistaken for eczema.

Hand, foot and mouth disease: This common disease occurs in infants and children. It’s very contagious and can be caused by a number of viruses. Hand, foot and mouth disease typically causes a fever, mouth sores and rashes on the hands and feet.

Foot rash treatments

There are over-the-counter creams and sprays that can effectively treat foot rashes and infections. If your foot rash doesn’t improve or if it gets worse after using over-the-counter treatments as directed, see your healthcare provider. Some foot conditions may require prescription-strength topical or oral medications. 

See your healthcare provider if you have itchy bumps on the foot that don’t go away or if you have a fungal foot rash that is very painful, extremely itchy, raw or accompanied by a bacterial foot infection. In some cases, you may need to take an oral medication in order to clear up the rash. If you have diabetes, see your healthcare provider at the first sign of any type of foot rash or foot infection.

Published May 2022.

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