Athlete's foot is the most common infection of the skin. Despite its popular name, you don't have to be an athlete to contract this usually harmless fungal infection, which can develop in places other than locker rooms or gym showers. It occurs far more frequently among men than women and is more common in hot humid weather.
Once you have athlete's foot, it can be unusually persistent, so it's important to treat it. People with diabetes mellitus must be especially attentive to identifying athlete’s foot, as it can be a major trigger for more serious bacterial infections.
Symptoms of Athlete’s Foot
- Scaling and peeling between the toes
- Redness, itching, the appearance of tiny blisters, and scaling along the sides and soles of the feet
- In severe cases cracks between the toes can develop, and the skin becomes soft and painful.
- If toenails are infected, they may become discolored and begin to thicken, scale and crumble.
- The skin between the toes may appear yellowish in color and may have an unpleasant odor
What Causes Athlete’s Foot?
Trichophyton is the name of the most common group of fungi that causes athlete’s foot. (The similarly itchy condition around the groin known as jock itch is also often due to Trichophyton). The fungus thrives best in warm, moist, enclosed environments. Snug, poorly ventilated shoes and damp, sweaty socks provide an ideal breeding ground. Your chances of catching athlete's foot from another person are slight, but the fungus can be spread to others by fragments of affected skin that have been shed.
What If You Do Nothing?
Athlete’s foot should not be ignored. The condition can be easily treated, but if allowed to progress, it can be extremely bothersome and resistant to treatment, and can lead to cellulitis, a potentially serious bacterial infection.
Home Remedies for Athlete’s Foot
Once you have determined that athlete's foot is the problem, you should treat it immediately. The usual treatment is an over-the-counter antifungal cream, lotion, or powder containing antifungal agents such as clotrimazole.
Apply the cream on the soles of your feet. For between your toes, use the lotion or powder; it is more quickly absorbed than the cream and won’t trap moisture, which could prolong the problem.
In most cases three consecutive days of treatment should clear up most of the symptoms of athlete's foot. It’s common to assume that the infection has ended when the itching is gone and there is no sign of redness or cracking on the skin. This is not the case, however. In fact, six or more weeks of treatment are usually necessary to resolve the infection and prevent a relapse.
Some people are more susceptible to the athlete’s foot fungus than others. If you are susceptible, follow these commonsense rules, especially when you’re very active and your feet tend to perspire.
- Keep your feet clean. Daily washing with soap and water is a good idea, but be sure you dry your feet thoroughly, especially between the toes (you can use a hair dryer on low heat).
- After drying, apply antifungal lotion. Follow this with an antifungal foot powder that does not contain cornstarch; cornstarch can encourage fungal growth.
- Choose ventilated shoes. This allows your feet to breathe. Also, don’t wear the same pair of shoes every day, so that your shoes have a chance to air out.
- When you can, go barefoot. The next best thing to bare feet is wearing sandals, flip-flops or water shoes.
- When you wear shoes, wear socks, too. The best protection comes from socks made of synthetic materials (such as polypropylene) that wick away moisture. Wash your socks in the hot water setting of the washer and change them daily.
- Avoid sharing towels, clothing or footwear with others.
- Avoid yeast containing products, such as baked goods and breads, which can exacerbate athlete’s foot.
Beyond Home Remedies: When To Call Your Doctor
Contact your physician if the area turns red and swollen, or if nonprescription medication has provided no relief after two weeks.
What Your Doctor Will Do
Typically, your physician will examine your feet and, use a surgical blade to take a skin scraping (or trim off a piece of hair or nail) that will be scrutinized under a microscope for fungal growth. If the problem is a minor case of athlete's foot, an antifungal lotion or powder will probably be prescribed. Severe or intractable cases can be treated with any of several newer oral antifungal agents.
The Complete Home Wellness Handbook
John Edward Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., Sheldon Margen, M.D., and the editors of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter
Updated by Remedy Health Media