Athlete’s foot is an uncomfortable and unsightly condition resulting from a fungal infection on the skin of the foot. Athlete’s foot generally begins between the toes, caused by sweaty feet being trapped in tight-fitting shoes. Athlete’s foot is named such because athletes are so prone to the condition, but anyone can have athlete’s foot.
The skin infection “athlete’s foot” is closely related to other fungal infections of the skin, such as ringworm or jock itch. While it can be treated with over-the-counter medications, the infection often reoccurs and sometimes needs prescription intervention to fully rid an individual of the condition.
What is Athlete’s Foot?
Athlete’s foot is caused by a fungal infection in the skin of the foot. The fungus that causes athlete’s foot is called Trichophyton. Trichophyton is a common fungus often found on common surfaces like floors. The fungus also lives on clothing and inside of shoes.
As long as the skin is dry and clean, the Trichophyton fungus is harmless and will not reproduce. Athlete’s foot begins when sweaty feet are confined in tight-fitting shoes for long periods, allowing the fungus an opportunity to grow and infect the skin. Athlete’s foot is also referred to as tinea pedis or ringworm of the foot.
Tinea pedis, or athlete’s foot, appears as a red, itchy rash that generally begins between the toes and then spreads over the skin of the entire foot. The fungus that causes athlete’s foot is closely related to other fungal infections, like ringworm and jock itch. Athlete’s foot can be treated with over-the-counter medications but sometimes a prescription is required to fully rid a person of athlete’s foot.
Do Only Athlete’s Get Athlete’s Foot?
While the name may lead you to believe that only athletes suffer from this uncomfortable condition, athlete’s foot is an extremely common condition that affects people from every walk of life. Athlete’s foot is named as it is because athletes are prone to the condition, due to the high likelihood of their experiencing sweaty foot conditions while wearing tight shoes, a situation that permits the growth of the fungus that causes athlete’s foot. However, many people, in many professions, experience foot conditions that are conducive to developing athlete’s foot.
The fungus that causes athlete’s foot is present nearly everywhere but thrives in damp conditions such as public showers, locker rooms, and public swimming pools. A person contracts the fungus through direct contact, either with shared surfaces or direct contact with the foot of a person who already has athlete’s foot. Once the fungus is present in the environment, it only needs growth opportunities to take hold of a new subject's foot. These growth opportunities are presented when the new carrier wears tight-fitting shoes and performs activities that lead to sweaty feet.
Soldiers are very likely to experience athlete’s foot, as conditions of training often leave soldiers wearing tight-fitting boots for long periods while performing strenuous activity. The strenuous nature of training leads to sweating, especially sweaty feet, and there is often no opportunity to stop and change into dry socks during the training period. This is the perfect opportunity for the fungus that causes athlete’s foot to grow and take hold.
Symptoms of Athlete’s Foot
Athlete’s foot symptoms generally begin between the toes. The first sign of athlete’s foot is generally a red, itchy rash that itches most right after removing shoes and socks. Athlete’s foot can look very similar to eczema or very dry skin but the use of moisturizers will not help alleviate the symptoms. The rash can be very uncomfortable, stinging or burning and very itchy.
One type of athlete’s foot, called moccasin athlete’s foot, looks like dry, scaly skin that covers the sole of the foot and extends up the sides of the foot, as well.
In advanced cases, athlete’s foot can cause the skin of the foot to crack and bleed, opening the body up to opportunities for other infections to take hold. It is important not to scratch a foot infected with athlete’s foot fungus, no matter how badly you may want to, as this spreads the disease and can cause the skin to break.
Is Athlete’s Foot Contagious?
Athlete’s foot, or tinea pedis, is very contagious. The fungus that causes athlete’s foot can live on surfaces touched by the infected foot, allowing the fungus to spread to other people who use or touch those surfaces. The infection can also be spread by scratching the infected foot and then touching uninfected skin. This is a common way to spread the infection from one foot to another.
Just touching an infected surface, however, is not enough for someone to develop a case of athlete’s foot. Once the fungus is present, it still needs a conducive environment to begin growing and infect the skin. That conducive environment is provided by sweaty feet confined in tightly-fitting shoes.
Can You Prevent Athlete’s Foot?
People who go barefoot all the time rarely develop athlete’s foot. This is because the fungus that causes athlete’s foot requires a damp, warm, dark environment to grow. When skin is clean and dry, Trichophyton (the fungus that causes athlete’s foot) is unable to grow in a way that allows it to start an infection. Only in damp, dark places like sweaty shoes can the fungus grow and begin to infect healthy skin.
To prevent athlete’s foot:
- Wash Feet Daily – Keeping feet clean, washing thoroughly between the toes, can help prevent Trichophyton spores from taking hold.
- Dry Feet Thoroughly – After a bath, shower, or swimming, dry feet thoroughly, paying special attention to the areas between the toes. If possible, walk barefoot for a few minutes after feet have been wet to ensure that all skin has had ample time to dry.
- Wear Shower Shoes – Keep a pair of shower shoes (flip flops or other easy to remove shoes) that can be worn in common shower and locker rooms.
- Change Socks Regularly – Always wear clean socks and keep an extra pair of socks handy if you anticipate engaging in a sweaty activity. Choose socks that wick moisture away from the skin.
- Powder Feet – Using powder to absorb perspiration can help reduce the moisture necessary for fungus to grow. Powder feet daily, but especially if you anticipate engaging in strenuous activities during the day.
- Shoe Choice – Choose shoes that fit well and are well ventilated. Tight-fitting shoes that don’t allow the feet to “breath” are a major contributor to developing athlete’s foot.
- Alternate Shoes – Keep an extra pair of shoes so that shoes can have plenty of time to dry between uses.
- No Sharing of Towels or Socks – Do not share towels or socks with another person. The fungus that causes athlete’s foot can live on cloth material and transfer from one person to another.
Athlete’s Foot in Diabetics
For patients suffering from diabetes, athlete’s foot can be a more dangerous condition. Increased insulin levels from diabetes can damage major organs and systems in the body. Diabetes affects the heart and blood vessels, the nervous system, the kidneys, and eyes, and contributes to slower healing throughout the body, hearing impairment, skin conditions, sleep apnea, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Because of the damage that diabetes can cause to the circulation system and the nervous system, it is extremely important that individuals with diabetes take extra care of their feet and immediately tend to any concerns. One of the potential effects of diabetes is a weakened immune system rendering the body unable to effectively fight off infections. Additionally, the disease often leads to serious problems with the feet.
One common way that diabetics encounter foot problems is due to a damaged nervous system. Weakened nervous systems are not able to effectively convey messages from the feet, leading to an inability for the patient to feel the feet. This also impairs normal sweat secretion and oil production in the feet, leading to an abnormal pressure on the feet during walking and skin problems that often result in sores.
Due to the suppression of the immune response in diabetics, the body is often unable to heal these wounds. If left untreated bacterial infections can lead to gangrene, which may require amputation to ensure that the infection does not spread to other parts of the body.
For people with diabetes, caring for the skin of their feet takes on additional importance. Reduced nervous system function and lower blood flow to the body’s extremities can mean that infections that easily heal in other people can take months to heal in a person with diabetes. Broken skin from scratching the itchy rash caused by athlete’s foot can open up the skin to secondary infections that can be dangerous to a person with diabetes.
If you suffer from diabetes and suspect a skin infection on your feet, seek immediate medical help from a provider that specializes in foot care. Dr. Kleis is an expert in foot care and has more than 25 years of experience helping patients with diabetes deal with complications from the disease as it relates to conditions of the feet. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Kleis, call (714) 760-4944.
Athlete’s Foot Care Specialist
Dr. Jeffery Kleis is a podiatrist in Costa Mesa. Dr. Kleis has more than 25 years of experience in treating all manner of foot and ankle conditions. Dr. Kleis can evaluate your athlete’s foot and prescribe a course of treatment that will treat the condition and restore healthy feet.
To consult with Dr. Kleis, schedule an appointment today by calling (714) 760-4944 or schedule an appointment online.