The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Stop That Itch! How to Treat and Prevent Prickly Heat on Your Feet

Posted by on Sunday, November 18th, 2012

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A week or so ago, we had a cold snap that my body was completely unprepared for. At night I felt so chilly that I went to bed, bundled up in layers of fleece and of course, warm socks for my icy feet. The next day I found out that I had paid for all that warmth–I had prickly heat all over my toes.

Prickly heat, also known as heat rash, is characterized by rashes of small red bumps, like tiny blisters, all over a patch of skin. In some cases they can get big enough to resemble hives or welts. Oh, and in case you need another tip that you have heat rash, the little bumps itch. Really itch. And itching makes them worse, by the way.

Heat rash develops on skin that’s been overheated. When your sweat glands are blocked, sweat builds up under your skin, creating the red itchy bumps. It’s common during the summer, when the air is humid and moisture accumulates easily on your body. You can get it anywhere, but typically it will appear in places that don’t get enough cool, dry air, such as your armpits. In winter, people get it when they overdress against the cold. Think of me with my nice warm socks–sure, my feet were cold enough to need those when I first got into bed, but after a few hours under the socks, plus a blanket and comforter, my toes were suffocated, overheated, and sweaty. So the next morning, hello, heat rash. Babies are prone to heat rash anytime because of their small pores that don’t allow sweat to escape fast enough, but are especially likely to develop it in the winter, when overanxious parents bundle up their baby too much (so lesson to me, don’t treat your feet like fragile infants).

Now what do you do about it? The first time I noticed it on my feet a few winters ago (yes, I’ve had it before and honestly should have known better than to go to bed with those super warm socks on), I thought it was some kind of manifestation of dry skin, which is also a problem for me during the winter. So I kept slathering the areas on my toes with moisturizer, but it wasn’t getting any better–actually, it got worse. I mentioned it to my mom and she suggested it was prickly heat. I looked it up, and yup, that fit the symptoms. So the first thing I’ll tell you is DON’T slather the itchy patches with moisturizer–all you’re doing then is blocking the sweat glands more.

Here’s what you SHOULD do:

  • Keep your feet cool and dry. Take off your shoes and socks any time you can.
  • Dust a good anti-itch foot powder into your socks before you put them on, and change your socks if you begin to sweat.
  • Avoid super warm socks, especially if you’re also wearing warm winter boots or shoes.
  • Choose shoes and socks that allow your feet to breathe. Unless you’re going hiking in Antarctica, you’ll survive.

For immediate relief of the itchiness, you can put calamine lotion or over the counter hydrocortisone cream on the itchy patches.

I use the home remedy we always used for mosquito bites, a paste made out of baking soda and water; you can also soak your feet in a baking soda and water bath . Do this when you have some barefoot time available, so it has a chance to dry. Other home remedies include putting a cool damp cloth or ice on the itchy area; soaking your feet in an oatmeal bath; applying a paste of besan flour or multani mitti.  Watermelon, yogurt, and butter are also great home remedies.

The important thing is just to let your feet breathe and stay dry as much as possible.

If you find your rash isn’t clearing up after a few days, go see a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900 ) to find out what’s going on. You might have a fungus or other infection that needs treatment.

So there’s the moral of my story–take care of your feet, but don’t let them overheat!

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.