What Causes Red Feet in Older & Elderly Adults?
As we age, our body undergoes various changes that impact our overall comfort and mobility. But we often forget about the part that takes the brunt of the impact over the years: our feet. Tending to your foot health is crucial for maintaining good spirits and stepping confidently into your golden years, but what does it mean if your feet turn red?
Although the sight may sound alarming, foot redness is fairly common in the elderly and is usually indicative of another condition, so your most important question is “What are red feet a symptom of?” Fear not, because we’ve broken down all of the internal and external factors that can cause red feet, along with some tips to help you manage and even prevent them.
Understanding the Aging Foot
Before we get into what causes red feet, it’s important to establish that it’s one of many common experiences of getting older. The University of Chicago Medicine’s Foot and Ankle Surgeon Kelly Hynes explains that as we age, the skin in our feet becomes less elastic, potentially causing sagging arches or wider feet. Looser skin is also thinner and more sensitive––making our feet more susceptible to injuries, skin conditions, or color changes.
Apart from the topical, age-related vascular changes can also affect our feet, meaning reduced blood flow and an increased risk of numbness, swelling, or cold toes. Other symptoms of poor circulation include dry & cracked skin, weak toenails, or slower wound healing.
Primary Causes of Red Feet in the Elderly
Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)
If you’re experiencing redness in the feet and think it might be due to poor circulation, Peripheral Artery Disease could be the culprit. This condition is a narrowing or blockage of vessels that carry blood away from the heart, caused by a buildup of fatty plaque known as atherosclerosis. Although it can affect any limb, PAD primarily impacts the arteries in your legs, prompting swelling, pressure on the skin, and consequential red feet.
Aside from redness, early symptoms of PAD to watch out for include pain or cramping in the legs during physical activity, smooth & shiny skin that is cool to the touch, or even hair loss, all caused by a lack of oxygen-rich blood.
Cellulitis is another common cause of red feet, though not to be confused with “cellulite,” which is entirely unrelated. Cellulitis is an infection caused by bacteria that enters small cuts or breaks in the skin, appearing like a rash and resulting in inflammation, warmth, or pain.
If you have thinner skin or don’t wear proper footwear around the house and in communal settings, you’re at a greater risk of contracting cellulitis in the feet. When left untreated, the infection may lead to severe complications like abscesses, and especially aggressive cases can enter the ligaments, bones, or bloodstream (sepsis). Older adults and people with diabetes are more prone to cellulitis due to a weaker immune system.
Red feet in older adults could also be a symptom of gout, a painful form of arthritis that causes sudden stiffness, swelling, and intense discomfort in a joint. While it often affects the big toe, gout results from the accumulation of uric acid crystals in any of the body’s joints.
You might be suffering from gout if you’ve got intense joint pain, warmth in the affected area, redness in your feet, or swollen toes. Flare-ups can be excruciating and may last for several days, so it’s important to know your genetic history and dietary choices that cause or irritate gout, including sex (male), age (older), obesity, or diets heavy in meat and beer.
Foot redness can also be a symptom of contact dermatitis; that is, a mild allergic reaction to something external, as opposed to an allergy to food or medication. Some of the most common contact allergens affecting the feet include:
Because our shoes are often too tight, rub uncomfortably against our feet, or contain irritating & itchy materials, they could play a role in aggravating or triggering allergies. The best option for avoiding painful blisters and overall relief is to choose footwear that features hypoallergenic & breathable fabrics.
Red feet could also be your body’s way of signaling that it’s too hot or cold. Both extremes are dangerous, and while heat can burn, the intense cold can also quickly damage tissue.
The consequences of exposing your feet to freezing temperatures range from mild conditions like small & itchy swellings called chilblains to frostbite, which can cause pain, discoloration, and permanent damage. On the other hand, exposure to high temperatures can lead to heat rash or burns on your feet, especially if your shoes are intensifying the issue.
Protecting your feet from severe temperatures involves wearing appropriate footwear, like insulated boots or plush-lined slippers for cold climates, and breathable, comfortable shoes in hotter weather or while exercising. Apart from adequate footwear, avoiding prolonged exposure is another easy way to protect your feet from temperature-related redness.
The Role of Footwear in Preventing Red Feet
Choosing Hypoallergenic Materials
We’ve mentioned the importance of your shoe’s materials in combating red feet, but let’s get more specific. Footwear made from hypoallergenic textiles contains very few, if any, irritating substances and minimizes the chance of allergic reactions or discomfort. These shoes are great for individuals prone to rashes or with sensitive skin and can even contribute to your overall foot health.
For the most comfort & protection, look for a pair of orthopedic slippers made with skin-friendly materials like soft silk or satin, breathable leather or wool, or even memory foam.
Proper Ventilation and Temperature Regulation
Well-ventilated shoes provide more air circulation for your feet, meaning they’re not only more comfortable but they’ll also help prevent redness from heat rashes or burns. In addition, a pair of snug orthopedic slippers can promote blood flow, insulating and keeping your feet warm during chillier seasons.
For optimal temperature control, choose shoes with breathable materials like mesh or one of the hypoallergenic fabrics mentioned above, including silk, cotton, and wool. Your best bet is to find orthopedic slippers that combine quality materials with features that ensure good ventilation, like an open-toe or slip-on design.
Ensuring Adequate Foot Support
Not only is footwear without proper support uncomfortable, but it could also aggravate certain conditions that cause your feet to turn red. Shoes that are too tight, inflexible, or flat can intensify arthritis and slow circulation, prompting blood to pool in your feet. Ill-fitting footwear can even trigger a rare disease called erythromelalgia, characterized by burning pains and redness.
The benefits of orthopedic slippers include cushioned soles that offer arch support to distribute pressure & weight evenly, alleviating unnecessary strains. Opt for a pair with memory foam insoles that hug your natural footprint and boast extra comfort.
How to Manage & Prevent Red Feet in Older People
Regular Foot Checks
It’s so easy to get caught up in our everyday lives that we often ignore smaller issues until they become bigger problems. Routinely checking your feet is a simple way to maintain foot health and detect any early symptoms of conditions that can cause redness, like PAD or gout.
Take a moment every day before or after your shower to inspect your feet for any unusual signs of discoloration, swelling, or skin changes. Early intervention can prevent further complications and help your feet age a little more gracefully, so seek medical advice if you notice evidence of an infection or experience persistent pain.
Foot Hygiene and Care
We might not realize it, but tired, aching, or red feet can quickly sour our mood, so striving for good foot health and happy feet can directly improve our overall well-being. Effective foot hygiene is a great way to take care of your feet and is important for everyone, especially older individuals concerned about conditions like redness.
Keep your feet clean to avoid infections like cellulitis or athlete’s foot by washing them daily with mild soap and lukewarm water, then gently pat them dry to avoid any irritation. Moisturizing your heels and soles afterward can help prevent dryness and cracking.
Treat yourself to some regular relaxation and take foot baths with Epsom salt to relieve discomfort, trim your toenails carefully to impede any ingrown nails, and gently massage your feet to improve circulation.
To sum it up, red feet in the elderly can stem from a variety of vascular issues, infections, and arthritis, or even from external factors like allergies and extreme temperatures. Remember that the best way to get rid of redness is to avoid it altogether by prioritizing your foot health with regular observation and hygiene. The most important preventative measure is your footwear––so choose orthopedic slippers with hypoallergenic materials, adequate support, and proper ventilation for happier & healthier feet.