By Dr. Burk:
A little over a year ago, my son came home from school and took off his shoes next to me on the couch. I glanced over and noticed his long toenails, something I am always nagging him about, and told him to get the clippers and take care of them. He took the clippers and went outside to clip his nails (have to avoid those stray clippings lingering in the house) and not too long after he called out to me. I came to see what the problem was and he showed me between his toes. His skin was peeling and fairly red. I asked him if he had noticed any itching or burning and he informed me that yes, it had been a little itchy for a few days now. With as active as he is, I knew right away that he had contracted athlete’s foot.
Although he was a little embarrassed, I told him not to worry. Athlete’s foot, or tinea pedis, is very common, especially among active teen and young adult males. In fact, around 15 to 25 percent of people are affected by it at any one time. We began the proper treatment methods, and I instructed him on how to better avoid getting athlete’s foot again in the future. All of which is outlined below. I am happy to say that after his treatment, our home has remained athlete’s foot free.
What is athlete’s foot?
Athlete’s foot is the most common fungal infection and it normally begins between the toes. It is closely related to other fungal infections like jock itch and ringworm. The fungus thrives in warm, moist environments such as the shoes of athletes or people who sweat a lot. Athlete’s foot spreads quickly through direct contact with feet or surfaces that are infected with it and thrives on the floors of public showers, locker rooms, and around swimming pools. Athlete’s foot can easily be treated and prevented.
Who’s at risk?
Anyone can contract athlete’s foot; however, some people are more prone to get it than others.
Factors that increase one’s chances of developing athlete’s foot include:
- Walking barefoot in public locker rooms, restrooms, pools, and showers
- Sharing socks, shoes, or towels with an infected person
- Wearing tight-fitting, closed-toe shoes that don’t allow your feet to breathe
- Wearing the same pair of shoes every day
- Having wet feet for long periods of time
- Having sweaty feet
- Having a minor skin or nail injury on your foot
These conditions are very common for young athletes, so if you have an athlete at home, pay close attention to their personal hygiene and just how well they are taking care of their feet.
What are the symptoms of athlete’s foot?
One of the first signs of athlete’s foot is that the skin on the affected area will be moist and pale white. You may also experience itching and burning in the affected area. As athlete’s foot progresses, your skin may even peel and crack.
There are three types of athlete’s foot, and each one may affect your feet differently.
- Toe Web Infection– This is the most common type of athlete’s foot infection, usually beginning between the fourth and fifth toes. It develops much as was described above. Some people with this type of athlete’s foot may also develop a bacterial infection. This could further cause the skin to break down.
- Moccasin Type Infection– This infection begins with minor irritation, dryness, itching, burning, or scaly skin on the sole and heel of the foot. As it progresses, the skin will become thickened and cracked, and start to peel. In the most severe cases, the toenails will become infected. If they do, they may thicken, crumble, and possibly even fall out. It is often mistaken as dry skin or eczema.
- Vesicular Type Infection– The vesicular (blister) infection will usually begin as a sudden outbreak of fluid-filled areas under the skin. The blisters typically develop on the bottom of the foot but can sometimes also occur on the heel, between the toes, or on the top of the foot. You can also develop a bacterial infection with this type of athlete’s foot.
How is athlete’s foot treated and when do you come in for treatment?
Most cases of athlete’s foot can be treated at home with over-the-counter creams, lotions, or sprays. If these are ineffective, you should come in and see us. We may need to prescribe special pills or topical treatments to help you get rid of it. Athlete’s foot is highly contagious. It’s important that you treat it as such and keep the area clean and covered so that it does not touch other people or surfaces.
If you have diabetes and suspect that you have athlete’s foot, then it’s important you be seen by a podiatrist as diabetes and athlete’s foot are a dangerous combination.
How to prevent a reoccurrence of athlete’s foot.
- Always finish the full course of any medicine recommended by your doctor. The fungus can continue to live on your skin, even after your symptoms have gone. Your chances of eliminating athlete’s foot the first time around are better when you use the medicine for the prescribed amount of time.
- To ensure you kill the fungi on your clothes, use hot water and bleach when you wash. Soapy, warm water may not do the trick on their own.
- To prevent the recurrence of a toe web infection, use an antifungal powder to help keep feet dry, place lamb’s wool between your toes to keep them separated, and wear wider shoes that allow your feet to breathe. Discard shoes that may have been infected by the fungi. You can find lamb’s wool at almost any pharmacy or foot care store.
Preventing athlete’s foot.
The proper precautions can help prevent athlete’s foot. Practice good foot hygiene by wearing shower sandals in locker rooms, public pools, and showers. Keep your feet dry and clean and make sure you air out your shoes for 24 hours before wearing again.
Other ways to prevent athlete’s foot include:
- Wash feet with soap and water then dry them thoroughly, especially between the toes
- Make sure feet are thoroughly dry before putting on shoes and socks. If you are tracking moisture/water into your shoes from the shower then chances are your skin will remain moist/wet, providing an ideal environment for fungus to flourish
- Use anti-fungal foot powder daily
- Don’t share socks, shoes or towels
- Don’t go barefoot in public places, especially showers, locker rooms, and pools
- Make sure your socks are made of breathable fibers like cotton or wool, or synthetic fibers that absorb sweat
- Wear shoes or sandals that allow your feet to breathe
- Change your socks daily or whenever sweaty feet have made your socks moist.
If you believe you have athlete’s foot or have other concerns about the condition of your feet, then give us a call. Our friendly foot doctors will help you find a solution for your problem.
Our foot and ankle care doctors and surgeons are board-certified by the American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery and are members of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons and the American Podiatric Medical Association. Call (208) 855-5955 or request an appointment online.