What is Athlete’s Foot?
Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection caused by the tinea fungus, and is usually found between the toes. Its medical name is tinea pedis– ringworm of the feet. It most commonly affects those who are highly active, and thus prone to having sweaty feet confined within tight shoes often and for extended periods of time.
Athlete’s foot is not only embarrassing, but highly contagious. The infection can spread via contaminated surfaces such as floors and laundry. If not careful, the infection can also spread to other parts of the body, such as the hands, nails, and groin.
Learn more about the symptoms of athlete’s foot, and how to prevent an infection of your own.
Athlete’s Foot Symptoms
The visual indication of an athlete’s foot infection is a red rash between the toes that is scaly in appearance, with some occurrences even presenting blisters or ulcers. This rash causes the sensations of itching, stinging, and burning. The itching is usually most intense immediately after removing the socks and shoes.
You may also experience dry, cracked, raw, or peeling skin between the toes and on the soles of the feet. Thick, discolored toenails detached from the nail bed are another indication of an infection.
Some strains of the tinea pedis fungus can cause chronic dryness and chafing on the soles and sides of the feet. This can often be mistaken for other skin conditions such as eczema. The infection can spread to other parts of the body, such as your hands, if you pick at the infected sites.
Causes & Risk Factors
Athlete’s foot is closely related to ringworm and jock itch, and is actually caused by the same fungal infection. The tinea pedis fungus thrives in warm, damp environments, making sweaty socks the perfect incubator for its growth. It is most commonly found in moist public spaces, such as communal locker rooms, public showers, gyms, and swimming pools. Walking anywhere barefoot is highly discouraged.
Certain environmental factors put you at higher risk of contracting an athlete’s foot infection. For one, males are more likely to develop the infection. If you are highly active, meaning that you wear sweaty socks for extended periods of time, then you are at higher risk. Since the fungus is highly contagious, being exposed to an environment such as a communal gym or shower with an infected individual makes you extremely likely to catch the infection. Moreover, if you share a home with someone who is infected, you may catch the infection through contaminated floors, shared bedding, shared towels, etc. For this reason, those who tend to walk barefoot in public spaces are at a higher risk. This includes those with compromised immune systems, such as those with diabetes.
Athlete’s Foot Diagnosis
An experienced podiatrist can often diagnose an athlete’s foot infection through visual confirmation. However, he or she may also take skin samples to view under a microscope or send to a lab for testing for a definitive diagnosis.
Common tests include:
- PAS stain
- Skin culture
- Skin biopsy
Athlete’s Foot Treatment
Athlete’s foot is similar to other common fungal infections, and mild cases can be treated with over-the-counter antifungal medications such as creams and ointments. Over-the-counter antifungal medications include: Lamisil AT and Lotrimin AF.More serious cases may require prescription medication to be applied topically to the feet. For the most severe cases, your doctor may prescribe oral antifungal pills to flush out the infection. Common oral antifungal prescriptions include: Sporanox, Diflucan, Gris-Peg or Lamisil.
At home, you may soak your feet in salt water to help remedy the blistering. Tea tree oil is also a common natural remedy used with some limited success. Of course, only a doctor’s visit can be trusted to completely eliminate the infection.
The most effective treatment for any infection is prevention.
- Avoid walking barefoot in any public space, especially ones that are humid and moist such as a locker room.
- If you know that a family member has contracted the infection, do not walk barefoot on any communal floors, and refrain from sharing linens such as bedding and towels. Even try to use different showers until the infection clears, if possible.
- Wash your feet thoroughly with antibacterial soap, and dry them fully.
- Apply antifungal powders daily, if necessary.
- Wear socks with breathable fibers such as cotton or wool, or specially designed moisture-wicking features.
- Change your socks as often as possible, and alternate between different pairs of shoes to allow them to dry out between uses.
- If the infection seems unavoidable due to a highly active lifestyle, seek treatment at the first signs of infection to avoid it from spreading to the hands, nails, or groin.
- Seek medical attention immediately if you have diabetes or compromised immune health.
The fungal infection can potentially spread to your hand, your nails, and your groin (jock itch).
You may also develop an allergic reaction to the fungus, resulting in blistering on the affected area. Moreover, an additional bacterial infection may develop. A bacterial infection may also be present if your foot becomes painful and swollen, or if it develops pus and drainage. Seek medical attention if you develop a fever to prevent the infection from spreading throughout the body.
Consult Esteemed Podiatrist Dr. Vikki
If you suspect that you may have an athlete’s foot infection, schedule a consultation with podiatrist Dr. Vikki today. Dr. Vikki is a diplomat of the Board of Podiatric Surgery, and the trusted podiatrist of the Special Olympics. Just look to her well-earned reputation for excellence in patient care. For all of your podiatric questions and concerns, contact the specialists at the Superior Foot & Ankle Care Center.