Athlete’s foot can be both an uncomfortable and embarrassing thing to deal with. You will find out that just about everyone suffers from some type of fungal infection at some point in their lives. It helps to know that everyone has fungi living on their skin and under the right conditions, they grow and multiply becoming an infection.
Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection located on one or both feet and also known as tinea pedis. The infection can be short-lived or persist for months to years. It is very common among both men, women, and teenagers. It also affects many people who suffer from lowered immune systems. This article will help you understand what this common infection is and how it can be treated and prevented.
What is Athletes Foot?
Athletes foot comes from a family of fungi known as dermatophytes. The actual infection is a very common foot infection on the soles of the feet and between your toes. Known as tinea pedis, it will show up as a red, scaly rash that is very itchy. It is common in athletes, diabetics, and people who frequent public places involved with water (think public showers).
This fungi thrives in areas that are warm and moist. Even though you have some on your skin already, your immune system keeps it in check. When you frequent areas that have the right conditions, you can develop the infection. This includes walking around without shoes in places like public swimming pools, locker rooms, and public showers. You can also get it from having pedicures at nail salons. Wearing socks that are slightly damp will put you at risk or wearing closed shoes without any socks to wick up moisture.
While there are a variety of symptoms for athlete’s foot, they are pretty straightforward and include;
Itchy feet and toes
Thickened, yellow toenails
Symptoms can affect the entire foot, but sometimes start between the toes and spread to the soles and the top of the foot. One or both feet can be affected.
Risk Factors for Athletes Foot?
Everyone is at risk for athlete’s foot. Some people are less likely to get it because their immune systems can keep the fungi in check. Others are at higher risk for the infection. These groups are:
People with Weak Immune Systems This tends to be very common in diabetics, people with autoimmune disease, HIV, and cancer patients.
Males and Teen Boys This is more commonly seen in males and teen boys. Male hormones tend to make the sweat glands more active and this leads to the right conditions.
Wearing Damp Socks Wearing socks that are damp or if your shoes are very tight fitting makes a good environment for fungi to grow and thrive.
Sharing Linens & Towels Sharing linens and towels with others can transfer the fungi from one person to another. Athlete’s foot can be very contagious if the conditions are right.
Bare Feet in Public Places If you walk around public areas that are near water or even steam, walking barefoot can put you at risk.
Athlete’s foot is pretty easy to diagnose by looking at the skin and taking a history of symptoms. The doctor may ask you about recent activities and if you have a history of infections like these. Hard to clear infections may require further testing, but this is unlikely. The tests for Athlete’s foot include:
Skin Scraping The doctor may take skin scrapings of the affected skin to look at it more closely under the microscope. It may even be sent off to the lab for further testing.
KOH Prep If the doctor takes small skin scrapings or some of the drainage, they place it on a slide with a chemical that stains the fungi and makes them visible.
Fungal Cultures The doctor may take a swipe of the drainage and affected skin with a swab (much like the ones used to check for strep throat). They send it into the lab to be cultured and see what grows. This is also useful when fungi are resistant to treatment because the lab can also do sensitivity test on the culture to see which medications it responds to. Believe it or not, fungal infections are now showing the same resistance to anti-fungal medications as bacteria are to antibiotics. This is why prevention tips should be followed as shown below.
Treatments for Athletes Foot
The treatments for Athlete’s foot involves the use of anti-fungal medications that are bought either over-the-counter with a doctor or pharmacist’s recommendation or prescription anti-fungal medications. It depends on the type of infection and how bad it is. The medications include:
Over-The-Counter Antifungals These can be recommended by your doctor or pharmacist and can be bought without a prescription. Some common ones are Lotrimin (clotrimazole), Lamisil (terinafine), and Tinactin (tolnaflate).
Prescribed Antifungals If you do not respond to over-the-counter medications or your infection is too severe, the doctor may try prescription creams or pills. Some of the creams include; Mentax (butenafine), or Naftin (naftifine). Oral medications include; Diflucan (fluconazole), Lamisil (terbinafine), and Sporanox (itraconazole). Doctors often wait to prescribe oral antifungals because of possible side-effects and only use them if necessary.
Treatment must be completed and could take time. If a full course of treatment is not finished, the infection could return or worsen.
Preventing Athletes Foot
Keep feet clean and dry
Use waterproof sandals (pools, sauna’s, and public showers)
Do not share towels
Do not wear damp socks
Go barefoot at home, give your feet a chance to breathe
Use a good foot powder
Practice good blood sugar control if you are a diabetic
Alternative Medicine for Athletes Foot
Tea Tree Oil After your shower or bath, rub in a few drops of tea tree oil. Tea tree oil is a known natural antifungal and is helpful if used long-term.
Apple Cider Vinegar Vinegar changes the pH of your skin making it unfavorable for fungal growth. Mix ½ cup with water in a spray bottle and use it to spray your feet after your shower.
Oregano Soak Oregano is said to be another natural antifungal. Make an oregano tea with warm water and 4 ounces of oregano. Soak your feet in the solution 2 to 3 times a day.