Patient Education

Contact Dermatitis of the Foot

Description

From bleach to poison ivy, there are plenty of things that can cause the skin of your feet to get irritated. Most commonly, the skin of the foot cries foul when it’s exposed to some harsh substance or other. These are often things like alkalines (such as bleach, soap, or other detergents), or acids (although mild acids like orange juice are not likely to do much damage to the skin, so don’t stress too much if you spill a cupful on your foot). Also common is an allergic response to something such as poison ivy, or even dyes in socks (which can be pretty uncomfortable if you, like most people, wear socks on a regular basis), adhesives, and so much more! (There’s a long list of possible allergens, but a few other common ones include metal (such as nickel), rubber, plants, fabric, fragrances (sometimes found in lotions), and topical medications.)

Irritation of these sorts may be known as contact dermatitis (a general term), primary irritant dermatitis (when the symptoms are caused by a harsh substance), or allergic contact dermatitis (symptoms are caused by an allergic reaction to something). In the case of primary irritant dermatitis, reactions can show up within an hour or two of exposure. However, allergic reactions generally take a bit longer to show up, typically around 24 to 48 hours after exposure.

Symptoms

Symptoms related to primary irritant dermatitis are likely to resemble a burn. However, with any type of contact dermatitis, you may notice that the skin of your foot has become reddened, warm to the touch, and there may be small blisters. You may develop a rash, and the skin may become thickened, swollen, and tender. If particularly bad, there may be oozing or crusty lesions at the place where you had contact with the wretched irritant.

Oh yeah. And your skin may itch really badly. But please, please don’t scratch it. However much you long to do it, scratching will likely only keep the skin from healing, and will thus only prolong your suffering.

Diagnosis

When you go in to see your podiatrist about your itchy foot, he or she will try to determine the cause of your skin irritation. You’ll probably be asked about any substances you may have come into contact with recently (including any substances you’re commonly exposed to at work), and how long the symptoms have been going on. If the reaction is likely to be allergic in nature, your podiatrist may suggest allergy testing to determine what exactly your skin is reacting to, particularly if your skin is getting irritated repeatedly. If you have suspicions about what’s causing it, you can bring samples to the allergy testing. (You can even pretend you’re on one of those forensic shows on TV. You know-one of those mystery-solving ones.)

Treatment

How you treat your skin irritation will really depend on what’s causing it. However, with both primary irritant and allergic contact dermatitis, removing the cause of irritation is the primary treatment. So, wearing better gear to prevent exposure to harsh chemicals at work may be best, or changing the type of socks you wear if you’re allergic to dyes, or getting a different detergent if that’s the problem. Also, you may want to rethink using poison ivy as a decorative addition to your landscaping.

If your skin has been burned, using cool compresses may be the best way to go. This will help reduce swelling and minimize damage. If you’re having an allergic reaction to something, hydrocortisone creams may relieve the symptoms. However, be careful only to use such creams when the cause is an allergen; if the cause is an infection, hydrocortisone creams will simply mask it, allowing the infection to grow worse.

With treatment, the symptoms tend to go away in a couple of weeks. And once your skin is no longer red, blistered and itchy, you’ll find you appreciate it more than ever. Which is a good thing, right?