What is Athlete’s Foot?
Athlete’s foot is a very common skin infection of the bottom of the feet caused by fungus.
The fungus that most commonly causes athlete’s foot is called Trichophyton.
When the feet or other areas of the body stay moist, warm, and become irritated, fungus can thrive and infect the upper layers of the skin.
Fungal infections can occur almost anywhere on the body, including:
- the scalp
How Do Most People Get Athlete’s Foot?
Athlete’s foot is caused by the ringworm fungus (“tinea” in medical jargon). Athlete’s foot is also called tinea pedis. The fungus that causes athlete’s foot can be found in many locations, including floors in gyms, locker rooms, swimming pools, nail salons, airport security lines, and in socks and clothing. The fungus can also be spread directly from person to person or by contact with these objects.
Most people acquire fungus on the feet from walking barefoot in areas where someone else with athlete’s foot has walked. Some people are simply more prone to this condition while others seem relatively resistant to contracting it. It has been called “jungle rot” by those serving in wars, including the Vietnam War.
However, without proper growing conditions (a warm, moist environment), the fungus may not easily infect the skin. Up to 70% of the population may have athlete’s foot at some time during their lives. Some individuals are inherently more prone to recurrences during their lifetime.
What to do for athlete’s foot?
The handling for athlete’s foot can be divided into two parts.
The first, and most important part, is to make the infected area less suitable for the athlete’s foot fungus to grow. This means keeping the area clean and dry.
Buy shoes that are leather or another breathable material.
Likewise, absorbent socks like cotton that wick water away from your feet may help.
Some shoe materials, such as vinyl, don’t breathe and can cause your feet to remain moist, providing an excellent area for the fungus to breed.
Powders, especially medicated powders (such as with miconazole [Lotrimin] or tolnaftate [Tinactin]), can help keep your feet dry.
Finally, your feet can be soaked in a drying solution of aluminum acetate (Burow’s solution or Domeboro solution). A homemade remedy of diluted white vinegar soaks using 1 part vinegar and roughly 4 parts water once or twice a day as 10-minute foot soaks, can also help.
Antifungal Creams and Washes
The second part of the handling is the use of antifungal creams and washes. Many medications are available, including: miconazole, econazole nitrate (Spectazole), clotrimazole (Lotrimin),terbinafine (Lamisil) sprays and creams, and ketoconazole shampoo and cream (Nizoral), etc.
Ask your health-care professional or pharmacist for a recommendation. Proper care for athlete’s foot should generally be continued for four weeks or at least one week after all of the skin symptoms have cleared.
Handling Advanced Cases of Athlete’s Foot
If you have an advanced case, please consult your physician. More advanced or resistant cases of athlete’s foot may require a two- to three-week course of an oral (pill) antifungal like terbinafine (Lamisil), itraconazole (Sporanox), or fluconazole (Diflucan). Laboratory blood tests to make sure there is no liver disease may be required before taking these pills.
If the fungal infection has spread to the toenails, handling of the nails must also be addressed to avoid re-infection of the feet. Often, the nails are initially ignored only to find the athlete’s foot keeps recurring. It is important to deal with all the visible fungus at the same time. Getting rid of nail fungus may require prolonged courses (three to four months) of oral antifungal medications.