Athlete’s foot or Tinea pedis, is a fungal infection of the skin on the feet. This infection may also spread to the toenails and hands. Athlete’s foot is usually more severe in people with diabetes and weakened immune system. Males are more likely to develop this infection. Athlete’s foot is common in individuals whose feet often get sweaty and those who wear tightfitting shoes regularly.
There are four types of athlete’s foot.
- Toe Web Infection: It may be called as interdigital infection since it occurs on the skin in between the fingers or toes.
- Moccasin Infection: It refers to the fungal infection of the sole of the feet. If not treated, the rashes on the sole may spread along the heel and side of the foot also.
- Vesicular Infection: These are the fungal infection of foot characterised by vesicles or blisters.
- Ulcerative Infection: In rare cases, painful sores or ulcerations may develop on the foot. These ulcers are painful and may get infected if not treated properly.
Athlete’s foot is caused by the fungi belonging to a group called dermatophytes. These fungi also cause jock itch and ringworm. Fungi grow in moist, warm areas and feed on keratin, a protein found in nail, hair, and skin. Tinea pedis is mildly contagious. It spreads through direct skin contact and by affected skin cells which may be present on the towel, floor and around pools. Rarely, this infection may be caused by yeast and other non-dermatophytes.
The possible symptoms of athlete’s foot include:
- Stinging and itching on the soles of the feet
- Developing blisters on the feet
- Cracking and peeling of the skin
- Drying of skin on soles of the feet
- Discoloration, thickening and crumbling of toenails
Individuals who are at a greater risk of acquiring athlete’s foot include:
- People who walk barefoot in damp public places like swimming pool, showers and locker rooms
- People who share shoes, towels with an infected person
- People who wear closed-toe shoes
- People who have sweaty feet
- People who have nail or skin injury on their foot
A doctor can diagnose the athlete’s foot by clinical examination of the skin. The following tests may be required to find out the exact cause of the skin rash:
- Potassium Hydroxide Test: The physician may scrape a small area of the affected skin and treat it with, potassium hydroxide (KOH) solution. KOH solution destroys all non-fungus cells. This test helps to confirm fungal infection of the skin.
- Skin Culture Test: In this test, a sample of skin is collected and is cultured to determine the organism causing skin infection.
- Skin Lesion Biopsy Test: Skin sample is collected and tested for skin diseases. A biopsy test is usually done to rule out skin cancer.
Athlete’s foot can be treated with over the counter(OTC) or prescription antifungal drugs based on the severity of the condition:
- OTC Topical Antifugals: The OTC drugs include Miconazole, Clotrimazole and Butenafine
- Prescription Medications: These are administered when the infection is severe. Some drugs include: Fluconazole, Itraconazole, Topical steroid and oral antibiotics.
Home Care or Alternative Therapy Athlete’s foot may be treated by soaking legs in the salt water or diluted vinegar which helps to reduce blisters. The following oils can be useful to reduce the symptoms of athlete’s foot:
- Tea tree oil
- Bitter orange oil
- Sunflower oil
The following are the preventive measures for athlete’s foot:
- Keep the feet clean and dry, especially your toes
- Avoid water-resistant synthetics shoes
- Wash your socks and towels in hot water regularly
- Wear socks made of cotton or wool
- Change the socks when it gets wet