athletes foot

What is Athlete’s Foot?

Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection of the skin of the feet. It occurs most commonly between the toes but can also develop on the soles, as well as any other part of the foot.
While it is not a very serious condition, Athlete’s foot is sometimes difficult to cure and may spread to the hands and toenails. It may also be particularly problematic for people with a weakened immune system or diabetes.

How Does Athlete’s Foot Develop?

The fungi that causes Athlete’s foot—dermatophytes—is the same species of fungus behind dermatophytosis (ringworm) and tinea cruris (jock itch). This highly contagious fungus thrives in moist, humid environments such as shower stalls, sweaty shoes, and damp towels.

What Increases the Risk of Developing Athlete’s Foot?

While Athlete’s foot is common among athletes, it can affect anyone that has direct contact with a person who has it or comes in contact with dermatophytes living on surfaces or objects. The following factors increase the risk of contracting Athlete’s foot:

  • Walking barefoot in public pool areas or locker rooms
  • Sharing towels, socks, or shoes
  • Keeping your feet sweaty or wet for prolonged period of time
  • Having injuries on your feet or toenails

Symptoms of Athlete’s Foot

A podiatrist can often diagnose Athlete’s foot by its symptoms. Sometimes they will perform a skin lesion potassium hydroxide exam, where infected skin is sampled, placed in potassium hydroxide, and observed under a microscope.

Skin symptoms (most commonly between the soles or on the soles) that help a podiatrist diagnose Athlete’s foot include:

  • Itching
  • Scaling
  • Stinging
  • Burning
  • Cracking
  • Blistering
  • Peeling
  • Dry
  • Raw

Toenail symptoms that help a podiatrist diagnose Athlete’s foot include:

  • Crumbling
  • Discoloring
  • Thickening
  • Toenails pulling away from the nail bed

Athlete’s foot that goes untreated can sometimes lead to an allergic reaction, or a bacterial infection that may cause pain, swelling or heat in the foot. There may also be drainage, pus or a fever.

In worst case scenarios, the bacterial infection can even spread to the lymph system.

Treatments for Athlete’s Foot

Because Athlete’s foot is difficult to cure, over-the-counter antifungal medications may not treat it properly. A podiatrist can provide various prescription-strength medications such as:

  • Oral antifungal medications
  • Topical antifungal medications
  • Topical steroid medications
  • Oral antibiotics

If over-the-counter medications do not get rid of your Athlete’s foot or the infection returns, make an appointment with your podiatrist for proper and permanent treatment.


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