In part one of this two part podiatry blog series we discussed the common causes of itchy feet, as well as some of the treatment options.

The most common itchy-feet conditions are fungal infections (athlete’s foot), inflammatory conditions of the skin (dermatitis) and peripheral neuropathy.

A common question often asked is; Why is the itching more severe at night than during the day?

It seems logical that, if you have a condition such as athlete’s foot, that the fungal infection is present 24 hours a day. The condition doesn’t go away during the day and then return at night to start the itching all over again. However, the itching does always seem to be the most bothersome during the nighttime hours, especially just as you’re trying to fall asleep!

Your nerves act like electrical wires sending signals to your brain.

This is really part of a very interesting phenomenon that applies to many foot conditions and often conditions on some other parts of the body as well. It has to do with the function of our nervous system. Our nerves are like tiny electrical wires that send signals to and from our brain.

The signals FROM the brain tell our body what to do, such as stand up or blink your eyes.

The signals TO the brain tell us what our body is feeling, such as hot, cold, pain, pressure, or ITCHING.

For now, we are focusing on the signals moving from our body to the brain. Our nervous system is very complex and it actually has different sizes of nerve fibers (like different gauges of electrical wire), each of which carries a certain type of sensation.

The nervous system is a complex network of nerves that transmit signals through the body.

For example, the nerve fibers that allow us to sense vibration are completely different fibers from the ones that allow us to sense a sharp pain. And, to make it more interesting, certain types of nerve fibers get higher priority from the brain. In other words, if there are two sensations coming in at the same time, our brain will often notice one but not the other, or, at the very least, one more than the other.

The brain has the ability to filter incoming sensory signals and assigns priority to each signal.

So what does all this mean for our itching feet being worse at night? Why don’t your feet itch as much during the day?

The answer is -- they actually DO itch just as much during the day, but we just don’t notice them itching!

This is because during the day our brains are receiving many different messages from our feet (and also the rest of the body). These messages include the pressure from the ground and our shoes, the motion of our feet as we walk, the position of our feet relative to each other and the rest of our body, and hundreds of others sensations we're not even aware of.

The combination of these sensations overrides the sensation of itching so that our brains simply don’t notice the itch.

It's common for some foot conditions to feel more painful at night.

At night, especially in bed while trying to fall asleep, the overriding sensations are no longer present. Our shoes are off, we’re not standing or walking, and our feet should really be the furthest thing from our minds.

However, without the “distractions” of the day, the foot itching begins to rear its ugly head. It doesn’t matter if the itching is caused by athlete’s foot, dermatitis, neuropathy, or any other foot problem – at night the itching prevails. In fact, as a result of this phenomenon, pain and most other foot annoyances will also almost always feel more severe at night.

So it’s not that our feet only itch at night. It’s that, because of the complex and amazing function of our nerve fibers, we only feel, notice and are completely irritated with the itching at night.

In order to have a restful sleep always seek the appropriate treatment that will alleviate your itching. Don’t leave it to guessing about what might be the proper over-the-counter remedy and, most of all: Don’t scratch!

If you need help finding the cause of your itchy feet, see a podiatrist who specializes in foot problems. Contact a podiatrist near you in Long Beach by calling 562-433-0478.



Richard H. Graves, DPM
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Podiatrist, Sports Medicine Specialist
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