by Kimberly Allen R.N.
Athletes foot is a fungal infection that affects mostly the soles of your feet and between the toes. It is considered a communicable disease because it spreads easily. It is caused by a parasitic fungus that is usually found in warm moist environments like showers, pools, and locker rooms where people typically walk barefoot. Most experts believe that at least 70% of the population will develop athletes foot at some time in their life. Athletes foot is not an infection that you can develop a resistance to, which means you can get it repeatedly, especially since there are several different fungi that can cause athletes foot.
There are many different symptoms of athletes foot, not everyone experiences the same symptoms. Typical symptoms of athletes foot include itching with stinging and burning on the soles of your feet and between the toes. You can also have cracking and peeling of the skin between your toes as well as on the soles of your feet. The toenails can become thick, brittle and discolored even pull away from your nail bed. Some people also get small itchy blisters.
Not only can athletes foot spread to other areas of your body including the crotch it can also lead to secondary infections. The secondary infections can be caused by bacteria that comes in contact with open areas in your skin or because the fungi produce and release an antibiotic substance killing off vulnerable bacteria and allowing the growth of stronger more resistant bacteria which can lead to further problems. The antibiotic substances released can also cause the skin to breakdown giving you a soggy foot with eroded areas that are very painful between the toes. Some people also develop an allergic reaction if the proteins from the infection get into the bloodstream. An allergic reaction is known as dermatophytid and causes multiple painful blisters on your hands, finger, and toes.
Usually if your athletes foot is mild you can treat it effectively with over the counter antifungal ointments, sprays or powder like lotrimin or tinactin to name a few. However, if you are one of those that has severe athletes foot and it’s not improving with over the counter medications you may need to see your Dr for prescription strength medication. There are both topical ointments as well as oral medications that your Dr can prescribe if you are unable to resolve your athletes foot with over the counter medication. In addition to the antifungal medication your Dr may also prescribe antibiotics if you have a secondary bacterial infection. If your athletes foot is severe and you have “soggy feet” and blisters the Dr may also recommend vinegar soaks or compresses to help clear them up.
Athletes foot may not be life threatening but it’s definitely bothersome so prevention is again better than treatment. Athletes foot grows best in shoes that are thick and tight squeezing the toes together creating moist warm areas between them, It also just loves wet shoes and socks, plastic shoes are an especially good environment for fungi to grow. So it’s important to keep your feet dry paying particular attention to between the toes. Many Drs recommend going barefoot at home as much as possible to air your feet out. Wear cotton or wool socks as they will draw the moisture away from your skin. If you have feet that prespire alot then you should change your socks at least twice a day. Avoid vinyl or rubber shoes, instead wear light weight, well ventilated shoes and never share shoes. Since athletes foot is spread by walking barefoot where someone with athletes foot has already walked protect your feet by wearing shower shoes or waterproof sandals when walking in public areas like pools and fitness areas. If you are in public places where athletes foot can be found frequently then you should also use an antifungal powder daily. Should you notice early symptoms of athletes foot start treatment immediately with over the counter ointments and if it worsens or doesn’t improve contact your Dr for further treatment.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.