Athlete’s Foot

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Athlete’s Foot

Athlete’s foot is a very common fungal infection that develops in the moist areas on the foot.  It usually causes an itching, burning, or stinging sensation.  Although it can occur on any person, it is more frequent among adolescents and adult males.  It’s closely related to other fungal infections such as ringworm and the same fungus may also cause jock itch.  Although athlete’s foot is contagious, it can be easily treated.


Why does athlete’s foot develop?

A group of mold-like fungi called dermatophytes causes these types of fungal infections.  These microscopic organisms are normal inhabitants of the skin, and typically don’t cause any problems or change as long as the skin stays clean and dry.  However, dermatophytes thrive in damp, warm environments which create athlete’s foot.  The organisms thrive on the skin of the feet because of tight shoes that squeeze the toes together and create warm, moist areas between them.  Damp socks and shoes also contribute to the organisms’ growth.  Athlete’s foot is contagious and can be spread by contact with an infected person or with contact with contaminated surfaces, such as towels, floors, and shoes.


What does athlete’s foot look like?

The appearance of athlete’s foot varies from person to person.  In some cases, the skin between the toes can peel, crack, or become scaly.  The soles and side of the feet may show signs of redness, scaling, or dryness.  In most cases, an itchy, burning, or stinging sensation may occur.  In some cases, the fungal infection may spread and cause thick, crumbly, ragged, or discolored toenails that can pull away from the nail bed.


Since athlete’s foot resembles the appearance of other skin conditions, using over-the-counter antifungal medications that are not meant for athlete’s foot may make conditions worse.  If over-the-counter medications do not clear the condition or if it becomes worse, contact a Dermatologist immediately.  After a correct diagnosis from a Dermatologist, an effective medication will be prescribed.  It is important to see a Dermatologist as soon as possible since blisters and cracks from the primary infection can lead to secondary bacterial infections if athlete’s foot goes untreated.


How is athlete’s foot diagnosed?

A thorough examination of the feet will be performed by a Dermatologist to determine if a patient has athlete’s foot or another type of skin disorder.  A Dermatologist may take a sample from the infected area of the skin and view the samples under a microscope to confirm the diagnosis.


How is athlete’s foot treated?

In most mild cases, a Dermatologist may suggest using an over-the-counter antifungal ointment, lotion, powder, or spray.  If the condition doesn’t improve by using one of the mild treatments then prescription-strength topical medication or an oral medication may be prescribed by a Dermatologist.  In addition, a Dermatologist may recommend steroid ointments, compresses, or vinegar soaks to help clear up blisters or soggy skin.  It is important to wash and dry the affected area daily and to follow the directions for the medication accordingly.  If the symptoms seem to be clearing up prior to the directions stated on the medication, do not stop the treatment. Noncompliance with the directions prescribed with the medication can lead to a recurrent infection of athlete’s foot.


What is the best way to prevent athlete’s foot?

These tips can help avoid athlete’s foot or ease the symptoms:


  • Wash your feet daily.
  • Keep your feet dry, especially between the toes.
  • Avoid tight footwear, especially during warm weather.
  • Wear natural materials such as cotton or synthetic fibers that are designed to draw moisture away from the feet.
  • Change socks regularly.
  • Protect your feet in public places by wearing waterproof sandals in communal showers, pools, and fitness centers.
  • Dust an antifungal powder on your feet and into your shoes.
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