Athlete’s foot, known medically as “tinea pedis”, is one of the most common skin infections encountered in primary care practices. With bare feet and wet public areas for summer fun, athlete’s foot shows up more this time of year. This infection is caused by a fungus that can grow on skin, nails or even hair. As the fungus grows and spreads, there is typically a red edged border, with the central area clearing and looking like normal skin. On the feet, however, the fungus causes an itchy red rash with thick scaling, cracking, and redness between the toes and on the heels, sometimes accompanied by a strong, unpleasant odor. (If you have a sweaty teenage athlete who props their feet up on the couch to share their stinky feet with the rest of the family, you know the smell…) We see athlete’s foot most often in young adults, aged 20-50 years old, although it can certainly occur at any age. Men seem to contract it more than women, although the reason for that is unclear.
How can you prevent it?
Getting athletes foot does not imply you have poor hygiene, but it likely does mean your feet are staying damp for prolonged periods. Wearing rubber sandals or other foot protection in community showers and locker rooms can help, as well as doing whatever it takes to keep your feet dry- from careful towel drying after getting wet, to changing socks half-way through the day if you tend to have sweaty feet.
The key is DRY.
Bonus tip of the day: to avoid spreading the fungus to other parts of your body, put on your socks before your underwear (if you have a case of athlete’s foot).
How is it treated?
There are multiple OTC sprays and creams that might help, but severe or chronic cases may require prescription anti-fungal medications that are taken by mouth. If you have already tried a full week of treatment with OTC products and are not getting significant relief (or if you keep treating it but getting it back), schedule an appointment with your family doctor to fully address this problem.
BOTTOM LINE: In moist or damp public areas such as showers, pools, and locker rooms, wear foot protection to avoid prolonged contact with the fungus that causes athlete’s foot.