Athlete's Foot

A close up of three toes with flaky skin signifying Athlete's Foot

What is Athlete's Foot?

Athlete's Foot is the common name for tinea pedis, a contagious fungal infection that affects the skin on your feet. This fungus causes the skin to become itchy, red and often flaky, particularly between the toes or on the soles of your feet. It can also become painful and may impact you being able to walk comfortably. 

As the name suggests, Athlete's Foot is often seen among athlete's, however anyone can develop the condition. It commonly infects people who have sweaty feet confined within tight fitting shoes or spend time in public amenities e.g. swimming pools. 

Causes

Athlete's Foot is typically caused by the same fungi that causes ringworm and jock itch, and normally thrives in warm and moist environments. These conditions are ideal for the fungus to be able to multiply and spread across the foot quickly. 

You can acquire this fungi from a number of sources commonly including; touching the contaminated surfaces in public swimming pools, communal changing rooms or closed-in shoes, or coming into contact with someone who has Athlete's Foot.

Who's at risk

Athlete's Foot can be acquired at all ages and ethnicities, however are more often present in men rather than women and in adults more so than children. 

Although being common in such a diverse group, there are certain risk factors that heighten your chance of acquiring it. These include:

  • Being over the age of 65
  • Swimming and using the changing rooms at public swimming pools, especially barefoot
  • Wearing tight, closed-in shoes frequently
  • Sweaty feet
  • Having moist toes for long periods of time
  • Disease that causes poor circulation 
  • Immunocompromised 
  • If you have diabetes
  • Australian's in general, due to our hot and humid climate. 

Symptoms

The early signs & symptoms of Athlete's Foot include:

  • Red & scaly rash, often starting between the toes
  • Cracked or peeling skin
  • Itching, stinging and burning
  • Raw skin
  • Blisters may also be present

This infection will often start on or between your toes, spread further down to the soles of your feet, and may even spread to your hand, especially if you're constantly scratching at the infected parts of your feet. 

What can happen if I ignore Athlete's Foot?

Although it is more of an uncomfortable nuisance to begin with, if the condition is left untreated, it may become more serious and the following symptoms could develop:

  • Bleeding from cracks in the skin
  • White, moist skin in the webbing of the toes
  • Unpleasant odour
  • Oozing from the blisters
  • Pain
  • The cracks in your skin could mean you're susceptible to developing plantar warts, as the virus will enter through this split in the skin.
  • It may result in a secondary infections of your toenails, becoming discoloured and thick, and may start to pull away from the nail bed  — see Fungal Nail Infections.

Diagnosis

Our qualified podiatrists will perform a physical examination and a range of other tests, to assess whether a fungal infection is present. It's important to rule out other skin conditions, and also determine whether a fungal infection is present alone, or if a fungal and bacterial infection are present. If both are present, a different method of treatment would be required, so it's important that we get a confident diagnosis from the start. 

Treatment & Prevention

Once the presence of Athlete's Foot is confirmed, it's important to change a number of lifestyle factors in order to successfully treat and prevent the condition. Our podiatrists will make a number of recommendations including:

  • Keep your feet dry and clean by thoroughly drying them after a shower, especially in between your toes
  • Keep your shoes and socks dry and sweat-free
  • Wear bamboo socks
  • Wear open shoes where possible to air your feet
  • Disinfect infected shoes, socks, towels and bath mats to help prevent the spread of infection or to stop yourself from getting it again
  • Change your socks regularly
  • Avoid sharing socks, shoes and towels
  • Wear your own open sandals/thongs in communal spaces such as changing rooms, showers and swimming pools. 

These recommendations will be coupled with either an over-the-counter anti-fungal medication for mild Athlete's Foot or prescribed medications for more severe conditions. As there are a range of anti-fungal options including ointments, creams, powders and sprays, we recommend you seek advice from our podiatrists on what the best treatment course would be for you. 

If you are confident it is tinea pedis and would like to give it a go and treat yourself, we recommend attending the chemist/pharmacy and speaking to the pharmacist who can provide you with options for effective antifungal creams.   

As the condition is contagious, if you notice a change in your skin around your toes and experience any of the signs & symptoms listed above, we recommend to seek treatment immediately before it becomes a stubborn fungal skin infection!  

FAQs

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