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Athlete's Foot

Fungal Infection Causes Athlete's Foot

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Updated May 30, 2014

athletes foot

Photo of a patient with athlete's foot.

Image © A.D.A.M.
Athlete's foot is a common fungal infection of the skin of your feet. The fungus, tinea pedis, is contracted from public environments. The fungus then grows in the warm and moist environment of your footwear, and can be difficult to eradicate.

Where did I get a athlete's foot from?
Many cases of athlete's foot can be traced to use of a public recreational facility, such as a spa, swimming pool, or locker room shower. The fungus, which grows in warm, moist environments, likes to live in the outer layers of your skin. However, for short periods of time, the fungus can live in warm puddles on the tile floor, awaiting another foot to hop onto.

Symptoms of Athlete's Foot

Most commonly, people experience the typical symptoms of athlete's foot:
  • Itching, most notably in the creases between your toes
  • Redness and scaling of the skin in affected areas
  • Cracked or blistered skin.
Symptoms of athlete's foot can be mild or severe. In more progressed stages of fungal infection, the toenails may become involved causing a thickened, yellowish appearance of the nail.

Treatment of Athlete's Foot

The best treatment for athlete's foot, is prevention. If you're reading this, it is likely that this particular step of treatment has either been passed, or has not worked--keep reading! Once you do get rid of athlete's foot, you're going to want to know how to prevent it from happening again in the future.
  • Wear sandals in the locker room. Make sure they have a non-stick sole so you won't have to search the Internet for information on caring for broken bones...
  • Wear cotton socks, and change them often. Once you're done sweating, clean off and put on a fresh pair. If you're shoes are wet or sweaty, make sure you dry them before lacing up again.
  • Wash your feet and dry them well. Fungi from athlete's foot will live in a warm, moist environment. If you keep your feet dry, they will have a hard time enjoying you. Application of a talc powder can help keep your feet dry over the course of the day.

The best treatment for a simple case of athlete's foot is an over-the-counter medication. Ask the pharmacist to direct you towards a medication for athlete's foot (not necessarily the most expensive), and be diligent about applying the medication. You'll have to do this for at least several weeks, twice a day, for athlete's foot treatment to be effective. Of course, also perform the above recommendations, in addition to applications of the medication.

Do I need to see a doctor about athlete's foot?
If you can't seem to win the battle against athlete's foot, then it's probably time to visit your doctor. There are further treatment steps that can be taken. If the topical antifungal treatments are not sufficient to control the problem, then an oral prescription treatment is often the next step. There are quite a few antifungal medications on the market, your doctor will help you decide which is best. Fortunately, some of the newer medications have minimal side-effects and are less expensive, but because of possible complications all of the oral antifungals are available only by prescription.

Are there any other issues I should be concerned about if I have athlete's foot?
Athlete's foot is extremely common, and in almost all cases there is no underlying problem that led to your contracting this infection. However, fungal infections can also be an early sign of more serious problems that result in a weakened immune system. This is especially true for individuals who are at risk for developing diabetes or contracting the HIV virus. If someone in your family has diabetes, or if you are at-risk for HIV (high-risk sexual activity, needle sharing), then you should see your doctor to confirm that these are not potential underlying disorders.

Sources:

Noble, S, et al. "Diagnosis and Management of Common Tinea Infections" American Family Physician. July, 1998.

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