The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Attack of the Dermatitis

Posted by on Wednesday, August 8th, 2012


It’s the type of question smarty sixth graders love to try to stump adults with: “What’s the largest organ in the human body?”

No, it’s not the brain, no matter how smart you are. It’s not the heart, no matter how generous you are. And it’s not the stomach, no matter how many pizzas you can eat in one sitting. It’s (drum roll) the skin.

Of course, the skin, that thing that’s wrapped around you holding everything in and protecting you from all kinds of nefarious attackers (how much worse would a mosquito bite be if you didn’t have skin? Oh my gosh, I think I just totally nauseated myself with the imagery. I’ll have to go lie down for a bit and picture puppies playing. Okay, I’m back!). Like any other organ, your skin is an active, ever changing, vital part of your body. But like all other parts of your body, it’s vulnerable to disease and infections. Since your feet are wrapped in skin, today we’re going to consider skin conditions and your feet, more specifically dermatitis.

Dermatitis is a catch all term for inflammation of your skin, marked by itchiness, redness, and flaking. Your feet can get dermatitis in several different ways, both directly (through contact) and indirectly (without contact).

Fungal infection: Dermatophytosis, a chronic fungal infection that causes dermatitis. The fungal organism, tinea rubrum, buries itself in the skin, causing redness and peeling skin, typically on the sides and soles of the feet. It’s often mistaken for dry skin. Fungi grow in dark, damp environments, so the best way to treat dermatophytosis is to create the opposite for your feet: wash them and dry them carefully, put powder on your feet or in your shoes, wear open shoes or sandals. It’s similar to what you would do if you were trying to prevent or treat athlete’s foot.

Contact allergens This is simply where your feet come in contact with something that causes an allergy flare up. Individuals can react to any number of everyday materials: leather that’s been treated with certain chemicals, some common shoe materials (rubber, for example), cement dust, fertilizers, herbicides. Natural allergens such as poison ivy and poison oak also can attack your feet during the summer while you’re outdoors hiking the trails, wearing those nice, cool hiking sandals. Treatment involves identifying the source of the allergic reaction, avoiding it, and taking oral or topical antihistamines. A podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) can help identify the problem; you may also need to see an allergist.

Atopic and Neurotic Dermatitis Suppose you have hay fever or any other spring or summer allergy. You may expect to have a stuffy nose, itchy eyes, sinus problems, but would you believe that some people have these types of allergies “come out”  in itchiness and inflammation in their feet? Indeed, the human body is a place of wonder. Neurotic dermatitis is when a person’s anxiety creates a reaction in the skin on their hands and feet. In both cases, treatment involves steroid creams to reduce the inflammation and skin softeners to keep the skin from cracking and flaking.

Venous stasis dermatitis Older adults or people with circulation problems suffer from a poor flow of blood from their feet up to their hearts. When liquids pool in their legs, the skin can become rough, dry, and flaky. Treatment involves taking care of the circulation problems, for example elevating the legs or wearing compression stockings. Skin softeners can help with the dry, flaky skin.

No one likes dry, itchy skin anywhere, let alone on their feet. If you start feeling the itch, find out what’s causing the problem, and start solving it. Keep your feet unitchy!



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.