Dr Zuze Health Matters
Athlete’s foot (also called tinea pedis) is a common fungal infection that develops in the moist areas between your toes and sometimes on other parts of your foot.
It usually causes itching, stinging and burning. It’s closely related to other fungal infections such as ringworm and jock itch. Although contagious, athlete’s foot often can be treated with over-the-counter antifungal medications.
The signs and symptoms of athlete’s foot can be numerous, although you probably won’t have all of them. They include:
Itching, stinging and burning between your toes or on the soles of your feet
Cracking and peeling skin, especially between your toes and on the soles of your feet
Excessive dryness of the skin on the bottoms or sides of the feet
Toenails that are thick, crumbly, ragged, discoloured or pulling away from the nail bed
A group of mould-like fungi called dermatophytes causes this infection. These microscopic organisms are normal inhabitants of your skin, and their growth stays in check as long as your skin is clean and dry. However, dematophytes thrive in damp, closed environments.
Athlete’s foot thrives in thick, tight shoes that squeeze the toes together and create warm, moist areas between them. Damp socks and shoes and warm, humid conditions also favour the organisms’ growth. Plastic shoes, in particular, provide a welcoming environment for fungal growth and infection.
Athlete’s foot is contagious and can be spread by contact with an infected person or with contaminated surfaces, such as towels, floors and shoes.
You are at higher risk of athlete’s foot if you:
Are a man
Frequently wear damp socks or tight fitting shoes
Share mats, rugs, bed linens, clothes or shoes with someone who has a fungal infection
Walk barefoot in public areas where the infection can spread, such as locker rooms, saunas, swimming pools, communal baths and showers
Have a weakened immune system from say HIV or diabetes
If your athlete’s foot is mild, your doctor may suggest using an over-the-counter antifungal ointment, lotion, powder or spray. If it doesn’t respond, you may need a prescription-strength topical medication or an oral medication.
These tips can help you avoid athlete’s foot or ease the symptoms if infection occurs:
Keep your feet dry, especially between your toes. Go barefoot to let your feet air out as much as possible when you’re home.
Go with natural materials. Wear socks that are made of natural material, such as cotton or wool, or a synthetic fibre designed to draw moisture away from your feet.
Change socks and stockings regularly. If your feet sweat a lot, change your socks twice a day.
Wear light, well-ventilated shoes. Avoid shoes made of synthetic material, such as vinyl or rubber.
Alternate pairs of shoes. Don’t wear the same pair every day so that you give your shoes time to dry between wearings.
Protect your feet in public places. Wear waterproof sandals or slippers in communal showers, pools, fitness centres and other public areas.
Treat your feet. Use powder, preferably antifungal, on your feet daily.
Don’t share shoes. Sharing risks spreading a fungal infection.
If you have itchy feet and suspect you may have athlete’s foot please see your doctor.