What is athlete’s foot?
Athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) is a contagious fungal infection that develops between the toes and can affect (especially the little toe and the toe next to it) and can affect toenails as well as surrounding skin. The name stems from the fact that it commonly harasses people who have a dynamic lifestyle and engage into sports, swimming and similar activities which subsequently can result in sweaty feet wrapped around in tight shoes – a suitable place for fungal infections to materialize.
What are the main causes?
Athlete’s foot springs from a range of fungi that are classified as “dermatophytes”. These flourish in warm and moist environments such as showers, pools, locker rooms, and obviously, tight training shoes and have the tendency to multiply fast, causing skin cells to degenerate. The disease is also transmissible, meaning one can pick it up by sharing towels and shoes or by walking barefoot on contaminated surfaces.
Who is likely to develop the infection?
Sadly, almost anyone can contract the disease. Still, some precipitating factors or particular habits can further contribute to someone being more easily afflicted with it. These can be:
- Genetic predisposition
- Weak immune system
- Poor nutrition
- Leading a very active lifestyle
- Walking barefoot on locker room and shower floors or around swimming pools
- Small skin or toenail injuries
- Sharing socks, shoes, towels or even clippers with other people
- Not taking proper care of personal hygiene
- Wearing tight snickers
How can someone tell they have athlete’s foot?
Athlete’s foot usually manifests itself through easily discernible signs that typically involve:
- Itchiness coupled with burning sensation between the toes
- Thickened soles skin
- Peeling skin between the toes and on the soles
- Itchy blisters
- Thickened and brittle toenails
- Toenail discoloration (white or yellow)
- Painful fissures
- Repulsive smell
At times, coming up with your own diagnosis can be slightly trickier since some of the aforementioned symptoms can be also triggered by other reasons. In that case, a skin test may be needed to determine if you actually are afflicted by athlete’s foot.
Is there any more to it?
Unfortunately, yes. As mentioned earlier, the infection, no matter how mild it may initially appear, should not be overlooked because it can spring unwanted complications. For instance, an allergic reaction can bring about blistering on someone’s hands. Moreover, the fissures in the skin provide bacteria with a wide entry point which can increase the risk of developing cellulitis. And if a bacterial infection spreads into the lymphatic drainage system, it may induce swollen nodes.
As the old adage goes, prevention is better than cure. So, here is a list of the simplest safety precautions you can follow so that you limit the chances of athlete’s foot ensuing in the first place:
- Shop for footwear made of breathable materials which prevent moisture from developing inside them
- Disinfect your shoes using special products such as sprays
- Apply anti-fungal powder on your feet on a regular basis
- Avoid walking barefoot in locker room showers and public areas
- Frequently wash your feet with soap, drying them carefully and emphasizing in the areas between your toes
- Avoid sharing socks and shoes with other people
- Opt for a dry pair of socks whenever sweat build up inside your shoes
- Wash your socks in 150°F water
- Clip your toenails carefully using your own nail clippers
- Refrain from scratching the rashed areas; aim at soothing your feet by soaking them in cool water instead
- Try use two or more pairs of trainers when working out so that you always slip into some nice dry shoes before your training begins
Despite athlete’s foot not being regarded as a very serious skin infection, it shouldn’t be left untreated since it can spread to other areas of the body and bring about unexpected complications. The most common ways to do that are initially several OTC (over-the-counter) products, topical or oral drugs obtainable on prescription or home treatments and alternative remedies.
The most common way to combat the condition is using OTC anti-fungal products. You can purchase products like ointments, gels sprays or powders and apply them on the affected areas of your feet daily or twice a day for as long it takes to eliminate the rash (typically, the remedy needs to be continued for an extra week or ten days after the infection subsides). The most common OTC anti-fungal agents are miconazole, clotrimazole, terbinafine, tolnaftate, butenafine etc.
There can be cases where OTC medications fail to do the trick, so here’s a list of the most standard drugs, either topical or oral, your doctor may prescribe:
- topical clotrimazole or miconazole
- topical medications aiming at diminishing soreness
- oral anti-fungal creams and powders (itraconazole, fluconazole, terbinafine)
- oral antibiotics
In general, topical medicines are the more appropriate solution. Treatment usually takes a full month before the symptoms abate. If the infection persists, oral antifungals are the next stop, while treatment may take up to two months and is determined by the severity of the condition.
Needless to say that prescription medications’ use should abide by the guidlelines your doctor designates. Since some of the aforementioned medications can lead to side-effects, it is imperative that you follow your physician’s mandates to lessen potential side effects.
There is a number of homemade remedies that have been gaining popularity over the years and can help you deal with the infection in an effective and natural way. For example, you can soak your feet in salt water or diluted vinegar so as to kill the root of the infection and reduce inflammation; alternatively, you can apply the remedy on the affected area. There are also essential oil remedies (such as lavender, tea tree oi, which you can rub onto the skin so as to alleviate itching and swelling, clove, oregano, garlic, which is very effective in killing bacteria, etc.) that can help fight fungal infections. A special reference should be made to coconut oil, which is a superb way of nourishing dry skin and help it regenerate while also boosting your immune system.
Athlete’s foot is an infection that, though not very distressing initially, can be quite annoying, persistent and painful if left untreated. In most cases, anti-fungal treatment is the sure way to go, delivering sound and dependable cure. However, the likelihood of the infection reappearing can not be ruled out, so it is necessary to keep in touch with your doctor for optimum results.