What is athlete’s foot?
Athlete’s foot is a fungal skin infection that is also known as tinea pedis (tinea ‘of the foot’) and is not exclusive to athletes. The fungus that causes this condition – Trichophyton – thrives in areas that are moist and warm;
the skin between the toes is a particularly susceptible area. If not treated, it can cause a rash and itching in other parts of the body as well, especially the groin where the infection is sometimes known as ‘jock itch’ (tinea cruris). Tinea pedis is often recurring, as the fungus can survive under the toenails and reappear when conditions are favourable.
Causes of athlete’s foot
The fungus that causes athlete’s foot can be found on floors and in socks and clothing. Wearing poorly ventilated shoes and sweaty socks causes feet to become a breeding ground for the infection. Although the condition is just an uncomfortable nuisance for most people, its open sores can occasionally become more seriously infected.
Athlete’s foot symptoms
Itching, stinging and burning of the feet.
Cracked, scaling and peeling skin, particularly between the toes, and sometimes spreading to the soles of the feet. In severe cases bleeding may occur. Also in severe cases scaling or peeling of the soles can occur.
Symptoms in advanced stages
In advanced stages some of the following symptoms may occur:
White, soggy skin in the toe webs.
Oozing from the blisters.
Thickening, crumbling and discolouration of the toenails if they also become infected by the fungus.
Pain in the affected areas.
Fungal infection of the nails (onychomycosis) can also occur without other signs and symptoms of athlete’s foot.
Because the athlete’s foot fungus injures the skin, bacteria are also able to attack the skin. This type of bacterial infection causes an inflammation called cellulitis and occurs more often in the elderly, diabetic people, people with chronic leg swelling or those who have had veins removed from their legs (such as for bypass surgery), and people with weakened immune systems.
Athlete’s foot treatment
Athlete’s foot can heal by itself if you carefully clean and dry your feet before wearing shoes and socks, and change sweaty socks often. This makes the infected areas less suitable for the athlete’s foot fungus.
Footwear must be kept thoroughly dry. Thick cotton socks or sandals are recommended if possible. Shoes should be made of leather or breathable material; materials such as vinyl don’t breathe and cause the feet to remain moist, allowing the fungus to multiply.
The use of special medicated foot powders to keep the feet dry is recommended.
Antifungal creams, gels, sprays or powders may be used. It is important to continue applying these medicines for the recommended length of time to make sure the fungus is eradicated. For some of these medicines, this may be up to 1-2 weeks after symptoms have disappeared.
When should I consult my doctor?
Early treatment and health care supervision ensures correct diagnosis and prevention of complications. Specific diagnosis may be made by microscopic examination or culture of skin scrapings for the fungus. If there is any redness, increased swelling or bleeding, if the infection does not seem to be clearing up, or if you have diabetes and suspect you have athlete’s foot, see your doctor. If there is a bacterial infection also occurring, you may need a course of antibiotics.
What is athlete’s foot?