What Is Athlete’s Foot?
Athlete’s foot, also known as tinea pedis, is a fungal infection that usually occurs between the toes or on the soles of the feet. The fungus that causes the infection thrives in a warm, dark, and moist environment, which makes shoes the perfect environment for fungal growth.
Warm and damp areas such as swimming pools, locker rooms, and showers are also common breeding grounds for fungi. Because this type of infection has long been common among athletes who use these types of facilities, it became known as athlete’s foot.
Spreading Of Athlete’s Foot
Athlete’s foot typically begins between the toes, but can spread to the nails and the rest of the foot. It can also spread to other parts of the body, especially moist areas such as the armpits and the groin. Jock itch is often caused by the same fungus that causes athlete’s foot. The infection is commonly spread from the feet to the groin via the hands or a contaminated towel. Scratching or picking at infected areas of the feet can also lead to an infection in the hands.
Causes and Symptoms of Athlete’s Foot
Athlete’s foot is usually contracted in environments where bare feet come into contact with the fungus. Athlete’s foot is highly contagious and can be spread through contaminated towels, floors, and clothing. It is also common in people whose feet are confined in tight-fitting shoes and become very sweaty.
Athlete’s foot is more common among men than women. Individuals who frequently wear damp shoes or socks, walk barefoot in damp areas such as locker rooms, or share bed linens or shoes with someone who has a fungal infection are also at greater risk of contracting athlete’s foot.
Practicing good foot hygiene can help reduce the risk of athlete’s foot. Individuals are advised to wear shower shoes in public areas such as swimming pools and locker rooms, wash and dry their feet carefully especially after exercise, and change their shoes and socks as necessary to decrease moisture.
Symptoms of athlete’s foot include:
- A red, scaly rash that typically begins between the toes
- Itchy skin, especially right after removing shoes and socks
- Blisters, which can lead to cracked skin
Forms of Athlete’s Foot
The most common type of athlete’s foot is known as an interdigital infection, which occurs between the toes. The two smallest toes are often the first affected. This type of athlete’s foot can cause itching and burning, and the infection can spread to other parts of the feet.
Another type of athlete’s foot, known as the moccasin variety, typically involves the sole of the foot and the sides of the foot. This type of infection can begin as a minor irritation causing dryness and itching. As it evolves, the skin may become thicker and cracked.
The least common type of athlete’s foot is known as a vesicular infection, which is characterized by blisters under the skin. These blisters most often appear on the underside of the foot, but can also occur on the top of the foot, the heel, or in between the toes.
Athlete’s Foot Diagnosis and Treatment
Other conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis, may mimic athlete’s foot, so a proper diagnosis is necessary to determine the best course of treatment.
In some cases, podiatrists may be able to diagnose athlete’s foot with only a physical examination. To rule out other conditions, a skin sample or scraping may be sent to a lab for diagnosis.
Mild athlete’s foot can often be treated with over-the-counter anti-fungal treatments, such as an ointment, cream, spray or powder. If the infection doesn’t respond to topical treatments, oral medication may be prescribed.
Eliminating athlete’s foot can be difficult in some cases. Individuals with symptoms that don’t improve after two weeks of home treatment should contact a podiatrist. A foot and ankle specialist can prescribe stronger anti-fungal medication or topical treatments, or may recommend a combination of both. Patients who adhere to the full course of treatment recommended by their doctor will experience a more successful outcome.