Although athlete's foot may look like a rash or even an allergic reaction, it's actually an infection of the feet caused by fungus. The good news is that athlete's foot is a very common type of fungal infection, so treatments are easy to come by. However, it's important to know the signs and symptoms of athlete's foot so you'll know when treatment is necessary. In this article, you'll discover possible causes of athlete's foot and treatments for this condition.
Because athlete's foot could be mistaken for other conditions, it's important to know all the possible signs and symptoms of this particular type of fungal infection. The most common symptoms of athlete's foot are:
- Cracked or extremely dry skin on heels, soles or sides of your feet
- Peeling, scaling or flaking skin in between the toes or on the side of your feet
- Red, itchy skin anywhere on the feet
- Painful burning or stinging feeling on the skin
- Oozing blisters
- Toenails which become thick, discolored or crumbly
Although it can originate in other parts of the feet, athlete's foot occurs the most often in between the toes. If this infection goes untreated, it typically spreads to other areas of the foot and the toenails. Pay careful attention if you develop any of the symptoms listed above, particularly if you are already at risk for athlete's foot (see "Causes" below). The sooner you treat your condition, the less likely it is to spread.
According to The Mayo Clinic, the actual trigger of athlete's foot is exposure to a group of mold-like fungi called dermatophytes. Although these are normally found on the skin, they don't become a problem if the skin remains clean and dry. Once the skin becomes warm and moist, the dermatophytes grow to the point where they cause a problematic fungal infection.
There are certain conditions that are more likely to cause athlete's foot, including:
- Closed, tight shoes in which the toes are squeezed together
- Plastic shoes
- Damp socks and/or shoes
- Warm and humid weather conditions
- Very sweaty feet
- Minor cuts or scrapes on the feet or toenails
- Use of public areas like gym locker rooms, public pools or communal showers
- Exposure to shared items like bath mats, rugs, clothes or shoes
- A weakened immune system
Once a person has athlete's foot, the condition is contagious and may be spread through skin contact or through contact with a contaminated object such as a shoe, a towel or even a surface such as a floor.
There are several ways to treat athlete's foot, most of which are very simple and painless. These treatment options include:
- Over-the-counter treatments: Several antifungal drugs can be obtained at local drug stores or pharmacies, including butenafine, miconazole, clotrimazole, tolnaftate and terbafine. Some of the common brand names in this category include Lotrimin, Lamisil and Tinactin. These are topical products that come in the form of creams, sprays or powders.
- Prescription treatments: Stronger versions of the antifungal drugs mentioned above are available with a doctor's prescription. In many cases, these are also topical treatment options. However, prescription drugs like itraconazole and fluconazole can be taken orally as a pill. Oral medications are usually reserved for more serious cases of athlete's foot.
In most cases, mild athlete's foot can be treated at home with over-the-counter remedies. However, if these products fail to improve your condition or if your symptoms are severe, see a doctor. Some key signs that your condition is worsening are excessive redness or swelling of the feet and fever. Also, those who have diabetes should see a doctor if they develop athlete's foot because of their higher risk for foot complications.
Once you begin an antifungal treatment, it's important to follow the directions very carefully. With athlete's foot, the symptoms may disappear after treatment begins but before the infection is completely eliminated. For the best success with your treatment, complete the full course of your medication as directed rather than stopping as soon as symptoms subside. This usually means that you should continue using your medication for another 1-to-2 weeks after the infection appears to be gone, says PubMed Health. By doing this, the infection will be less likely to return in the future.
In addition to completing the full course of your medication, you can also have better success when it comes to eliminating your athlete's foot if you utilize the following tips during treatment:
- Keep your feet as dry as possible, using powders if necessary
- Wash your feet often, especially between your toes
- Change your socks often and wear light cotton socks when possible
- Wear well ventilated shoes
- Avoid going barefoot in public areas like locker rooms, saunas and swimming pools
- Avoid scratching or picking at your feet