Athlete’s Foot

What Is Athlete’s Foot? And when to see a doctor for it?

Athlete’s foot – also known as tinea pedis – is a fungal skin infection found between the toes. The name tinea pedis gives a clue to its cause: ‘tinea’ refers to dermatophytes (a fungus also responsible for jock itch and ringworm), while ‘pedis’ means feet.

It’s commonly associated with very sweaty foot conditions, often found in athlete’s training shoes. In some cases, athlete’s foot can be caused by another type of fungus – candida – though this is rarer.

Because the dermatophytes feed on keratin, they thrive in warm, moist environments around the feet. Athlete’s foot is mildly contagious, being spread through spores left on towels, shoes, or floors. Walking barefoot, therefore, increases your risk of infection, especially in high footfall environments (e.g., swimming pools or locker rooms).

People with impaired immune systems or diabetes are also at a greater risk of infection. Such people should take greater precautions to protect their feet in risky environments. This gives a better idea of what is athlete’s foot.

Athlete’s foot can be found on either foot or both. Symptoms commonly include:

  • Itchy blisters on your feet
  • Itching, stinging or burning between your toes or on the soles of your feet.
  • Inflamed skin (often with a reddish, purplish, or grayish coloring)
  • Dry, scaly skin extending up from the bottom of the foot
  • Discolored, thick, or crumbly toenails
  • Loose toenails
  • Cracked or peeling skin (between the toes and on your soles)

Athlete’s foot is extremely common. It’s estimated to affect 3% to 15% of the population – and 70% of people will get athlete’s foot at some point.

If you notice a prolonged rash on your feet – that does not improve within two weeks, despite treatment using an over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal medication – book an appointment with an athlete’s foot doctor. They’ll be able to diagnose the problem and provide a higher strength treatment.

Symptoms of pus, fever, or swelling of the affected area mean the infection is progressing – see a doctor immediately.

In addition, anyone with diabetes or a weakened immune system should always see a doctor if they wonder what is athlete’s foot and are experiencing these symptoms. Such individuals are at greater risk of progression and will find it harder to eliminate the fugus using OTC medications.

An athlete’s foot doctor will inspect your feet and take a relevant history of the condition. Alternative diagnoses include dermatitis. As such, your doctor may take some skin scrapings for testing.

The most common test for athlete’s foot is the ‘skin lesion potassium hydroxide exam’. Your doctor will place the skin scrapings in the potassium hydroxide solution. It will destroy your skin cells, leaving the fungi unaffected, meaning it will be visible under a microscope.

Most cases of athlete’s foot respond to OTC treatments. These are topical antifungal medications, such as:

  • Miconazole (Desenex)
  • Clotrimazole (Lotrimin AF)
  • Tolnaftate (Tinactin)
  • Butenafine (Lotrimin Ultra)
  • Terbinafine (Lamisil AT)

In cases where the infection does not respond, an athlete’s foot doctor can prescribe a stronger topical or oral antifungal medication. Oral antifungal medications include itraconazole (Sporanox), fluconazole (Diflucan), and terbinafine (Lamisil). Furthermore, topical steroid medications may also be prescribed to relieve painful inflammation.

Some home remedies can also be effective, including tea tree oil or soaking your feet in saltwater. The latter works to help dry up any blisters.

Athlete’s foot is an easily prevented ailment. To avoid spreading the infection or to avoid catching it, follow these tips:

  • Wash your feet
    Cleaning your feet daily using warm, soapy water is a simple yet effective solution. Ensure your feet are dried afterwards.
  • Air out your feet
    Because dermatophytes thrive in warm, moist conditions, letting your feet air as much as possible will prevent most cases of athlete’s foot.
  • Use a medicated foot powder.
    Your athlete’s foot doctor may advise you to use medicated foot powders if you’re prone to athlete’s foot.
  • Alternate socks.
    Changing your socks at least once a day is critical. You can also buy moisture-wicking socks to help keep your feet dry.
  • Wear sandals.
    In public pools, locker rooms, or showers, wearing sandals will protect your feet from infection.
  • Change shoes.
    Wearing the same pair of shoes for prolonged periods creates the ideal conditions for athlete’s foot. Let your shoes and feet dry by swapping shoes throughout the day.

Our Foot Doctor can help provide relief.

We can help you. Make an appointment for a comprehensive evaluation with Foot & Ankle Centers today.

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