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Athlete's Foot: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

What is Athlete’s Foot?|Medical Definition of Athlete’s Foot|Symptoms of Athlete’s Foot|Causes of Athlete’s Foot|Risk Factors of Athlete’s Foot|Diagnosis for Athlete’s Foot|Treatment for Athlete’s Foot|Lifestyle Changes for Athlete’s Foot
Athlete's Foot: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

What is Athlete’s Foot?

Athlete’s foot, referred to as tinea pedis in medical terminology, is a fungal skin infection of the feet. These infections, known as tinea infections, especially thrive in warm, damp, and moist environments. The skin condition varies from mild to moderate, but can lead to a serious disease if left untreated for long. However, it is harmless in most instances. The skin condition is widely common amongst athletes, which is how the foot fungus infection gets its name. However, individuals not into sports may also get infected by this fungus.

Medical Definition of Athlete’s Foot

Athlete’s foot is a foot fungus infection caused by a fungus named dermatophytes. Warm, damp, and moist places accelerate their rampant growth. When these fungi on the skin of the feet receive an environment that is apt for their growth, it encourages their growth. This leads to the fungal infection of the skin.

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Symptoms of Athlete’s Foot

There are various symptoms of tinea pedis, all of which do not usually manifest in every patient. The possible symptoms of the medical condition are:

  • Intense itching in the affected area
  • Redness and scaling of soles
  • Cracked skin
  • Scaly, white patches of skin
  • Peeling, webbed skin, and blistering, specifically between the toes
  • Foul odour from the affected area between the toes
  • Bumps
  • Exposed raw skin due to scratching
  • Skin rashes that spread to the inner part of the feet
  • Cloudy yellow, thick toenails in advanced stages of the condition

Touching the affected areas of the feet and then touching other body parts may lead to the spreading of the medical condition. This may cause tinea infections in the underarms and groin known as jock itch.

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Causes of Athlete’s Foot

Athlete’s foot is caused by foot fungus, called dermatophytes, which usually reside on the skin, nails, and hair. Moist, damp, and warm temperatures offer the most suitable climate for them to thrive, which may then go beyond control and cause infections.

Risk Factors of Athlete’s Foot

Below are a few of the possible risk factors of tinea pedis:

  • Sharing closed footwear and socks that are sweaty
  • Sharing warm/moist towels
  • Walking bare feet in the washrooms of public swimming pools

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Diagnosis for Athlete’s Foot

The diagnostic procedure for tinea pedis usually follows a combination of physical examination, followed by investigation of medical history and lifestyle of the patient. Let’s take a closer look at the procedure:

Physical examination – In most cases, a doctor can identify this foot fungus infection simply by taking a thorough look at the symptoms on your feet.

Investigation of medical history – An enquiry about the lifestyle of the patient further confirms the underlying cause of the skin condition. However, the doctor may choose to conduct a more thorough investigation to ensure an accurate medical analysis. The doctor may investigate your personal and family medical history. This will enable him/her to eliminate certain medical conditions that may otherwise have been possible underlying causes behind the skin condition. It will help him/her narrow down the possible causes of your symptoms.

The doctor is also expected to take a close look at the medications that you may be taking now or had been taking in the recent past. Make sure to carry all your medical documents that record the history of your personal medical conditions and drug intake. He/she can update himself/herself with your prescription medications from your medical records. You will have to make your doctor aware of other medications like non-prescription or OTC (over-the-counter) medications, herbals, vitamins, and supplements that you may be taking presently or may have taken recently. This is essential for the doctor to evaluate whether your symptoms may be due to drug interactions.

Medical tests: The doctor may advise a skin test that involves collecting a small sample of skin from the affected area. This sample can be studied under a microscope for accurate analysis of the skin condition.

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Treatment for Athlete’s Foot

Tinea pedis treatment is determined by the severity of the skin condition. The available treatment options are as below:

  • For mild symptoms involving white scaly patches with no itching or redness, keeping the feet clean and dry at all times are effective for controlling the infection. Be more cautious about keeping the area between the toes clean and dry.
  • OTC (over-the-counter) anti-fungal topical creams, powders, and sprays are effective for mild conditions of the infection.
  • Serious infections may require prescription medications – oral and/or topical ointments. Patients with diabetes or circulatory disorders should also seek medical assistance.

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Lifestyle Changes for Athlete’s Foot

Take the following precautions to treat the skin condition and prevent it from recurring:

  • Wash your feet thoroughly every day and keep it dry, especially the area between the toes.
  • Sometimes choose to be barefoot at home — especially at night.
  • Avoid wearing closed, tight-fitted footwear that does not allow your feet to breathe.
  • Avoid synthetic socks.
  • Don’t share wet or damp footwear.
  • Avoid sharing footwear or socks with individuals whose feet sweat profusely.
  • Avoid wearing the same pair of footwear for two consecutive days, if possible. Give each pair a break of at least a day before the next use.
  • Select socks that soak water and sweat like cotton.
  • Be partial to leather footwear over vinyl ones as the former allows the feet to breathe.
  • Make sure that you wear footwear while walking on wet floors or public spaces like swimming pools. Keep a separate pair of dry slippers with you for use while walking on such surfaces.
  • Keep bathroom floors of your home dry and clean.
  • Wear a fresh pair of socks every day.
  • Make sure that you wear completely dry shoes before you step out, especially during monsoons.
  • Keep your shoes out in the sun once in a while to prevent fungus from thriving.
  • Sprinkle anti-fungal powder or spray in your socks and footwear every day.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Athlete’s foot: Causes, prevention, and treatment https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/athletes-foot-causes-prevention-and-treatment Accessed on 05/08/2020

Athlete’s Foot https://www.hopkinsallchildrens.org/Patients-Families/Health-Library/HealthDocNew/Athlete-s-Foot-(2) Accessed on 05/08/2020

Athlete’s foot https://www.hopkinsallchildrens.org/Patients-Families/Health-Library/HealthDocNew/Athlete-s-Foot-(1) Accessed on 05/08/2020

Athlete’s foot https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/athletes-foot/ Accessed on 05/08/2020

Athlete’s Foot (Tinea Pedis) https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/athletes-foot-tinea-pedis-a-to-z Accessed on 05/08/2020

Athlete’s Foot https://www.healthyhorns.utexas.edu/HT/HT_athletesfoot.html Accessed on 05/08/2020Athlete’s Foot https://uhs.umich.edu/athletes_foot Accessed on 05/08/2020

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Written by Nikita Updated 02/09/2021
Expertly reviewed by Dr. Ruby Ezekiel