Cracked heels are painful, to be certain, but are they really something you should bother seeing a doctor about? Absolutely.
Why You Need To Worry
What starts out as nothing more than a bit of dry skin on your heels can evolve into a major health problem. Those cracks in the callouses formed on your heels can become deep enough that they're more properly called "fissures," and they can end up being genuinely dangerous. In particular, people with diabetes or weakened immune systems have to be careful about heel cracks and fissures because they can quickly lead to things like staph infections, gangrene, and amputations.
How You Can Prevent The Problem
Preventing the problem isn't always easy, especially if you stand on your feet a lot for work or do a lot of walking. However, you can reduce the risk of developing the sort of hard callouses that eventually crack by wearing well-fitted shoes, shoes without too high of a heel (which puts unnecessary pressure on your callouses and can cause them to crack faster), wearing shoes even in the summer, avoiding flip-flops, and following a specific skin-care routine that will keep your heels soft. A heavy-duty moisturizer and a Ped Egg or pumice stone that's regularly used can help you avoid the podiatrist.
When You Know It's Time To See The Doctor
If you just have a few thin cracks that aren't deep, find an extra-thick moisturizer. They often sell products specifically for this purpose in the foot-care section of the drug store -- but you can also use the type of ointment that parents use on diaper rash -- mainly because it sticks where you put it. Cover your feet with the moisturizer at bedtime and then put on a pair of cotton socks so that the lotion stays on your skin. If the cracks heal up with two or three days, you can skip the doctor's office.
If the cracks get wider or deeper, show any signs of infection (pus, fluid-filled pockets under the skin, warmth, redness), or are bleeding see your doctor right away. You may have picked up an infection that could easily lead to serious trouble. Resist the urge to soak your feet in warm water -- warmth can make bacteria grow faster.
Your podiatrist will likely shave down any calloused areas that are beginning to crack and use a special type of liquid bandage on the fissures that are deeper. You may also need topical and oral antibiotics to treat any infection.
For more information on healthy foot care, see a medical office like Laurel Podiatry Associates, LLC.