Athlete’s foot, medically known as tinea pedis, is a fungal infection of the skin of the feet. Despite its name, athlete’s foot can affect anyone and is not restricted to those who play sports or participate in physical exercise only.
Symptoms of athlete’s foot include dry skin, itching, burning, and redness of the feet. The symptoms are often apparent in the skin between the toes, where the infection usually starts. Blistering, peeling, cracking of the skin, and bleeding may occur. Sometimes the affected skin can appear white and wet on the surface.
The fungus that causes athlete’s foot can be found on floors and clothing, and the organisms require a warm, dark, and humid environment in order to grow.
The infection spreads by direct contact with contaminated surfaces or objects. As the infection spreads, it may affect the soles of the feet or the toe nails. The affected skin is also more vulnerable to bacteria that cause skin infection (cellulitis).
This is particularly common in persons with diabetes, the elderly, and people with impaired function of the immune system.
Athlete’s foot is a very common skin infection of the foot caused by fungus. The fungus that commonly causes athlete’s foot is called trichophyton.
When the feet and other areas of the body stay moist, warm, and irritated, this fungus can thrive and infect the upper layer of the skin. Fungal infections can occur anywhere on the body, including the scalp, trunk, extremities (arms and legs), hands, feet, nails, groin, and other areas.
Athlete’s foot is caused by the ringworm fungus, commonly reffered to as tinea in medical language. This is why it is called tinea pedis. Pedis means feet.
The fungus that causes athlete’s foot can be found on many locations, including floors in gyms, locker rooms, swimming pools, nail salons, and in socks and clothing. The fungus can also be spread directly from person to person or by contact with these objects.
However without proper growing conditions such as a warm, moist environment, the fungus may not easily infect the skin.
Some people may be more susceptible to the fungus that causes athlete’s foot while others are more resistant. For example, there are many households where two people often husband and wife or siblings using the same showers and bathroom for years have not transmitted the fungus between them.
The exact cause of this predisposition or susceptibility to fungal infections is not yet known. Some people just seem more prone to fungal skin infections than others.
The treatment of athlete’s foot can be divided into two parts. The first and most important part is to make the infected area less suitable for the athlete’s foot fungus to grow. This means keeping the area clean and dry.
Buy shoes that are leather or other breathable material. Shoe materials, such as vinyl, that don’t breathe cause your feet to remain moist, providing an excellent area for the fungus to breed. Likewise, absorbent socks like cotton that wick water away from your feet may help.
Powders, especially medicated powders such as with miconazole or tolnaftate can help keep your feet dry. Finally, your feet can be soaked in a drying solution of aluminium acetate (Burrow’s solution).
A home made remedy of dilute white vinegar soaks using one part vinegar and roughly four parts water, once or twice a day as 10-minute foot soaks may aid in treatment.
The second part of treatment is the use of antifungal creams and washes.
Many medications are available, including miconazole, clotrimazole, terbinafine (Lamisil) sprays and creams, and ketoconazole shampoo and cream.
Treatment for athlete’s foot should generally be continued for four weeks, or at least one week after all of the skin symptoms have cleared.
More advanced or resistant cases of athlete’s foot may require a two to three weeks course of an oral (pill) antifungal like terbinafine, Sporanox. Laboratory blood tests to make sure there is no liver disease may be required before taking these pills.
Topical corticosteroid creams can act as a fertilizer for fungus and may actually worsen fungal skin infections. These topical steroid medications have no role in treating athlete’s foot.
If the fungal infection has spread to the toenails, the nails must also be treated to avoid re-infection of the feet. Often, the nails are initially ignored only to find the athlete’s foot keeps recurring.
It is important to treat all the visible fungus at the same time. Effective nail fungus treatment may be more intensive and require prolonged courses (three to four months) of oral antifungal medications.