Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection that most commonly affects the areas between your toes. The infection is caused by variations of the trichophyte fungi which thrives in warm and moist environments, making your toes the ideal breeding ground. Whilst athlete’s foot is very rarely a cause for concern, it can be irritating and sometimes painful, causing itchy and cracked skin.
Athlete’s foot often needs prompt treatment to stop the condition from worsening or spreading to other areas due to its highly contagious nature, and antifungal medications are easily accessible either over the counter, from your own GP, or online. It’s important to never share towels, socks or shoes with someone who’s got the infection, as it is easily passed from person to person.
"Athlete’s foot is an incredibly common fungal infection. It’s actually thought that up to 70% of people will experience it at some point in their lives. It can affect men and women of all ages, and the good news is that treatment is often easy, painless, and fast-acting. It’s very rarely a cause for concern, and many people don’t need to visit their GP for it, but please seek advice if you notice that your toenails are going black, or if the original infection doesn’t respond to treatment after 2 weeks."
What is Athlete’s Foot?
Athlete’s foot (or tinea pedis by its medical name) is a fungal infection that mostly affects the area between the toes. Athlete’s foot is rarely serious, but can be painful and irritating, and without treatment, it can cause other conditions and even spread to other parts of your body. Athlete’s foot is extremely contagious, so good hygiene and vigilance are important to stop it from spreading.
What are the symptoms of athlete’s foot?
The good news is that athlete’s foot almost always carries symptoms, so you should know fairly soon after infection whether you have it or not. The bad news is that the symptoms can he irritating and unpleasant. If you have athlete’s foot, you may experience:
- Peeling or flaky skin between the toes
- Cracked skin
- White or scaly appearance between the toes
Athlete’s foot generally affects the areas between the toes, but can spread to other parts of the body where you may experience similar symptoms.
It is also possible for the original infection to spread to the toenails, soles, and sides of your feet if it goes untreated for too long.
How is Athlete’s Foot diagnosed?
Due to the characteristics of the condition, athlete’s foot is most often diagnosed just by looking at the lesions on your feet. However, it’s rare that people with athlete’s foot need to visit their GP apart from in the following cases:
- If your toenails become black
- If the infection spreads under the nail
- If the original infection doesn’t respond to treatment after 2 weeks
Many treatments for the fungal infection are available over the counter from a pharmacy, or you can buy antifungal cream online at Doctor4U.
Treatments for athlete’s foot:
Due to the condition being caused by a fungal infection, the only medication to combat it and relieve the symptoms. Several treatment options are available and they work by either killing the fungal cells completely, or by preventing them from growing and reproducing. Ultimately, whichever treatment you’re prescribed, it should eradicate the infection and you should see an improvement within 2 weeks. Antifungal medications can come in the following forms:
- Oral tablets
Antifungal powders are generally used to treat footwear that you’ve been wearing whilst affected by athlete’s foot, whilst the topical treatments and sprays can be applied directly to the problem area (but always read the patient information leaflet to make sure you’re applying it in the right way).
Whilst oral antifungals do exist, these are usually reserved for the more serious cases of athlete’s foot, and in cases where the infection might have spread to other parts of the body. Your GP will be able to advise you which treatment is the most appropriate for your symptoms.
What causes Athlete’s Foot?
Athlete’s foot is most commonly caused by variations of the trichophyte fungi. These organisms tend to thrive in warm and moist conditions, making the areas between your toes the ideal breeding ground for them.
The condition gets its name due to the amount of athletes that suffered with the infection due to having sweaty feet, and using communal gym changing rooms and showers. Due to the infection being so highly contagious, it was far easier for athletes to pick it up when sharing facilities with other people that may have been infected. Of course, not everybody that contracts the infection is an athlete, but the same general rules apply.
If you or someone in your household has athlete’s foot, it’s important to not share towels, socks, or shoes, and to clean any damp areas such as the shower where the infected person may have walked barefoot. It’s also important to wash your feet regularly if you have the infection, as the fungus likes to feed on dead skin tissue. By making sure your feet are clean and dry, you’re removing its food source and making it more difficult for it to grow and spread.
How can I prevent athlete’s foot?
One of the most important things to remember when preventing athlete’s foot is to keep your feet clean and dry at all times. You can do this by wearing fresh cotton socks each day, and walking barefoot around your house as much as possible to let the air get between your toes.
Once you’ve showered, it’s important to thoroughly dry your toes to make eliminate any residual moistness from hosting any fungi. You can do this with a towel, or if you’re already infected and this is too painful, kitchen towel is a good substitute, or using a hairdryer on its coolest setting will also make sure the area is as dry as it can be.
It’s also important to look after your feet in the summer, as the sun can actually dry your feet our too much and protective oils can be lost. Athlete’s foot can also infect dry skin in cases like this.
Shoes (especially trainers) can become moist, especially during exercise. To avoid wearing damp shoes and increasing your risk of athlete’s foot, make sure to alternate your footwear each day, as shoes can take up to 2 days to completely dry. It’s also a good idea to make sure all of your shoes fit properly, as ill-fitting footwear can encourage moist conditions.