Athlete’s foot, also known as tinea pedis, is a fungal infection that affects the outer layer of the skin of the foot. Athlete’s foot is not only limited to athletes – anyone who is exposed to the fungus can be infected. According to the American College of Foot & Ankle Orthopedics and Medicine (ACFAOM), about 70% of people will be infected with the fungus at some point in their lives.
Athlete’s foot is caused by a genus of fungi known as Trichophyton. These organisms are classified as dermatophytes, and they inhabit the dead, outer layers of skin, digesting keratin. As is common with molds, they thrive in moist and warm conditions, making the foot a perfect environment.
Athlete’s foot is contagious, easily passed from person to person through direct contact. It can also spread indirectly, through contact with a contaminated item (towel, clothing) or standing barefoot in a public shower or locker room (hence the name “Athlete’s foot”). The fungi can persist on dead skin cells that have fallen off the body, onto carpets, bedding, or in socks, and remain infectious to others, including pets.
It is also possible that an existing fungal infection elsewhere on the body, such as jock itch (tinea cruris) or ringworm (tinea corporis), can spread to the feet and cause this condition.
Other factors can influence the likelihood of contracting this condition. Risk factors include:
- Previous Athlete’s foot infection.
- Age (more common in adults than in children)
- Gender (men infected more often than women)
- Diabetes or weakened immune system (possibly causing foot ulcerations)
- Abnormally heavy perspiration (hyperhidrosis)
There are many symptoms of Athlete’s foot, which usually presents itself as a red, scaly rash between the toes. However it can also be present anywhere else on the foot: on the soles, sides, top of the foot and around the heel. The rash causes moderate to severe itchiness and burning. The rash can also blister, or appear dry and flaky. The latter is often mistaken for dry skin or eczema of the foot.
Because of the contagious nature of the fungus, Athlete’s foot can spread to other parts of the body. If you experience discolored and crumbly toenails – or your toenails start to pull away from the nail bed – it may signal that Athlete’s foot has developed into a toenail fungus infection (onychomycosis). Similarly, touching the affected feet with your hands can lead to an infection of the hands or fingernails.
Athlete’s foot can also easily spread to the groin, causing jock itch. This can be transmitted through your hands, a towel, or even clothing articles as one gets dressed.
Finally, if the infection penetrates deeper into the skin, it might affect underlying tissues, causing a bacterial infection known as cellulitis. Cellulitis can spread to the lymph nodes and bloodstream, and can be fatal if left untreated.
In healthy individuals, Athlete’s foot can usually be treated at home, with over-the-counter antifungal medications. They include clotrimazole (Lotrimin), miconazole (Micatin), terbinafine (Lamisil), and tolnaftate (Tinactin). You can purchase these at pharmacies, typically as tablets, powders, liquids, sprays and creams.
If these non-prescription products do not work for you, or if you have a severe infection, you should see a dermatologist or a foot care specialist like Dr. Maislos. This will ensure that you receive an accurate diagnosis and access to a stronger prescription anti fungal medication (topical or oral).
Remember that athlete’s foot is very contagious and carries a high risk of recurrence. For that reason, it is strongly advised that you complete a full course of treatment, even if symptoms subside early. Keep in mind that while prescription medications are highly effective, they do not guarantee that you won’t develop Athlete’s foot in the future. You can take preventative measures to reduce your risk of reinfection:
- Keep feet dry and clean:
- Dry toes thoroughly after bathing
- Use anti fungal or talcum powder daily
- Socks and shoes:
- Wear socks to wick sweat
- Change socks twice a day
- Indoors, skip the shoes and what socks only
- Choose sandals or shoes that can breathe
- Let shoes breathe 24 hours between uses
- In Public:
- Wear sandals in public showers and locker rooms
Do you have a foot or toe itch that won’t go away? Schedule an appointment with Dr. Maislos, a top Houston podiatrist who can easily help you treat athlete’s foot and any other foot-related issues. Call us at (713) 541-3199 today.