Athlete’s foot, medically known as tinea pedis, is a fungal skin infection of the feet. In spite of its name, the infection is not restricted to athletes, it can affect anyone, but it is common among athletes because they often have damp feet.
Athlete’s foot is typically a mild infection that can easily be treated but it has a tendency to recur. It is estimated that about 70% of people will have the infection at least once in their lifetime
What causes athlete’s foot?
Athlete’s foot is caused by a group of mould-like fungi called dermatophytes. These fungi normally live on the skin, hair and nails but their growth is limited and they do not cause infection under normal circumstances. However, when the feet become warm and moist, the dermatophytes begin to grow out of control, leading to athlete’s foot.
What are the risk factors?
- Wearing thick, tight and closed-toe shoes for a long period
- Wearing damp socks and shoes
- Sharing socks, shoes, or towels with an infected person
- Wearing plastic shoes with little ventilation
- Men are more likely than women to develop athlete’s foot
- Having a weakened immune system from conditions such as diabetes or HIV/AIDS
- Visiting public places barefoot, especially locker rooms, showers, and swimming pools
- Having naturally sweaty feet
What are the symptoms of athlete’s foot?
Athlete’s foot may affect a foot or both feet at the same time. The area in-between the toes (especially between the 4th and 5th toes), the toenails, the soles and sides of the feet are common sites of the infection. Typical symptoms include:
- Moist, peeling skin between the toes
- Itching, stinging or burning sensation between the toes or in the affected area
- White, yellow, or greenish discolouration of the affected area
- Thickened skin in the affected area
- Painful fissures
- Excessive dryness of the skin on the bottom or sides of the feet
- Disfigured toe nails (when affected)
- Unpleasant smell from the feet.
Is athlete’s foot contagious?
Yes, athlete’s foot is contagious. It can be spread by direct contact with the feet of someone with athlete’s foot, or by indirect contact e.g. sharing shoes, towels, mats or socks with a person with the disease.
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How is it diagnosed?
The infection can easily be diagnosed in a doctor’s office by medical history and examination of the foot. Sometimes, skin scrapings and fluid from the affected area can be collected for microscopy and culture to confirm the diagnosis.
How is athlete’s foot treated?
In most cases, athlete’s foot is easily treated with over-the-counter antifungal medications (e.g. clotrimazole, ketoconazole) in the form of creams, powder, sprays or ointments. In severe infections, oral antifungal medications (e.g. griseofulvin, terbinafine) may be prescribed.
Sometimes, a secondary bacterial infection may be superimposed on an athlete’s foot, in such cases, antibacterial medications (e.g. amoxicillin) will also be prescribed.
Besides medications, some steps can be taken at home to improve symptoms, including:
- Washing the feet often with soap and water and drying them completely, afterwards.
- Soaking the feet in saltwater, diluted vinegar or tea tree oil to clear up blisters.
- Using a dusting powder to keep the affected area dry.
- Keeping the toes apart using a cotton or foam wedge.
How to prevent athlete’s foot
The following steps can be taken to prevent athlete’s foot:
- Keep your feet dry, especially between your toes.
- Go barefoot to let your feet dry as much as possible when you are at home.
- Make sure your feet are dry before putting on socks or covered-toe shoes.
- Change your socks regularly, especially if the feet get sweaty.
- If you have very sweaty feet, use a powder on the feet every day to help reduce sweating.
- Try not to wear the same pair of shoes every day, alternating your shoes will give them enough time to air-dry.
- Remove shoes as soon as exercise or sports has ended.
- Wear waterproof sandals or shower shoes in pools, fitness centres, and other public areas.
- As much as possible, avoid sharing footwear.
Till next time, stay healthy.