Someone Made Those Boots For Walking – But Are They Also Making You Ill?

Experts estimate that around 55 percent of Americans have some form of allergy, at a cost of $7.9 billion every year. Some allergies are common, but other problems occur more rarely. A shoe allergy can cause several unpleasant symptoms, but sufferers may not even realize that it's their footwear that is causing the issue. Find out more about the causes and symptoms of a shoe allergy, and learn about the steps you may need to take to deal with the issue.

About allergic contact dermatitis and feet

Shoe allergies cause a skin reaction called allergic contact dermatitis (ACD). This problem occurs when your skin reacts to an allergen found in your footwear. People with the condition may experience symptoms elsewhere on their bodies, but your feet create a unique environment for allergens to cause problems.

First, a boot or shoe has several components. In many cases, a typical shoe includes a strap, a sole, an insole, and a heel. Typically, manufacturers also use adhesives to hold the different sections together. They may also use other chemicals to protect the shoe or to give the finished product a certain look. Allergens in any of these parts of the shoe can cause an allergic reaction.

What's more, other factors can worsen the issue. When you wear socks or stockings, your skin is unable to breathe naturally, and you're more likely to develop sweaty skin. When you're walking or running, friction can also worsen the problem.

Common shoe allergens

Shoes often contain chemicals that cause an allergic reaction. Common allergens include glues, dyes, rubber chemicals, leather chemicals and metal decorations. Tests show that certain chemicals are more likely to cause an allergic reaction.

Studies show that the adhesive p-tert-butylphenol-formaldehyde resin (PTBFR) is the most common cause of shoe allergies. The second most common cause of shoe allergies is a leather chemical called potassium chromate.     


Shoe allergies can cause severe reactions, which can lead to painful and debilitating symptoms. These symptoms include:

  • Inflammation and swelling
  • Red, sore skin
  • Blisters
  • Fissures and cracks in the skin

Some of these symptoms can lead to problematic secondary infections. A severe infection could impair your mobility for some time. If you have other underlying health conditions (like diabetes), you could even suffer permanent damage to your feet.

Patients generally see symptoms on top of the foot and toes, the sole of the feet and the side of the heels.


It isn't always easy to diagnose a shoe allergy because the symptoms are often similar to those related to other medical conditions. Skin irritation is sometimes a symptom of a bacterial infection, dyshidrosis (a form of eczema) or psiorasis. As such, a doctor may need to carry out tests to eliminate these conditions before he or she diagnoses a shoe allergy.

A doctor will sometimes refer you to an allergist to help diagnose the problem. An allergist will often use patch tests to establish that your shoes or boots are the problem. In this case, an allergist will apply different allergens to patches of your skin to see what happens. You'll normally need to wear the patch for around 48 hours, so your skin has time to react.


Milder allergies may disappear without treatment, especially if you stop wearing the shoes or boots that caused the issue. A doctor may also prescribe topical corticosteroids to help ease the symptoms.

If an allergy specialist confirms the condition, you may need to avoid certain chemicals. Specialist organizations have developed special online databases of shoes you can buy that don't use potassium dichromate or PTBP-FR. You can also download contact allergen replacement database applications to use on a mobile phone that help you find allergen-free product alternatives.

Most people don't pay too much attention to their shoes, but if you're allergic to your footwear, you may find it hard not to notice the problem. If you see any symptoms of a shoe allergy, contact your doctor for more advice.