Athlete’s Foot, known by it’s medical name of Tinea Pedis, is a relatively common condition which appears as blistering and scaling of the soles of the feet, accompanied by itching and in some cases, cracked skin on the webbing of the toes. It is occasionally still referred to as ‘Jungle Rot’, which was a term coined by the Armed Forces during the war, to describe the red, itchy and sore condition

There are several different causes of the condition, such as fungal infections. In some cases of this type of infection, patients may find it spreads to other areas of the body, like the palms or groin. If it has been caused by a fungal infection, then it can almost always be treated with over the counter creams and preparations available from drug stores.

It can also be caused by allergies, erythrasma or other bacterial skin infections, pompholyx, which is a form of eczema, intertrigo or other skin fold infections, and occasionally psoriasis. One of the best ways of preventing the condition from developing in the first place is to keep the feet dry by using cotton socks and breathable shoes as often as possible. Making sure that feet are thoroughly dried after washing and putting on footwear is also paramount.

What are the causes of Athlete’s Foot?

Often it can be caused by fungus. This fungus is present on things like floors and clothing. To multiply and spread it needs a dark and humid environment. Infection in people occurs when there is direct contact with contaminated surfaces and clothing. Once the condition takes hold it can occasionally get into the sole of the feet or even the toenails

Doctors will tend to use the term ‘Athlete’s Foot’ to encompass many inflammatory skin conditions that affect the feet and the toes.

It appears as a scaly and sometimes red-looking eruption. It is sometimes accompanied by weeping blisters. Although it is called Athlete’s Foot and does mainly affect sports people, it also affects many people who aren’t sporty or lead generally sedentary lives. More often than not it will be caused by a fungal infection but needs proper testing to really determine its root cause.

How does Athlete’s Foot spread?

There are a lot of different fungi that are responsible for causing the Athlete’s Foot rash. They can be picked up in many different locations. These include:

  • Gyms
  • Locker rooms
  • Swimming pools
  • Communal showers
  • Nail salons and any non-medical places where you can have pedicures
  • Contaminated socks and clothing

The infection can also be spread by person to person contact. The easiest way to pick up Athlete’s Foot is to walk barefoot on a floor that has been walked on by someone who has the condition. There are some people who are naturally more susceptible to picking it up than others, and there are also people who seem to have much better resistance to the infection and never pick it up.

As with most cases of fungal infections, it requires warmth and moisture to breed. One school of thought suggests that cases of Athlete’s Foot were minimal before enclosed shoes became more common. It’s estimated that up to seventy percent of the population will develop the condition at some stage in their lives. However, catching it once does not mean you’re more likely to develop it in the future.

What are the symptoms of Athlete’s Foot?

Some people have the condition, with no symptoms at all and are unaware they have the infection. Others may notice what they think is a simple case of dry skin on the soles of their feet. However, there is often a sensation of itching, stinging or burning that accompanies the dry skin. The skin will often peel off and in some more severe cases there can be cracking, fissuring and pain to accompany these symptoms.

How does Athlete’s Foot look?

If the condition has arisen because of a fungal infection then it might cause a rash on one or both of the feet, which can sometimes affect the hand too. More commonly to be seen in men is the phenomena of ‘Two Feet One Hand’ pattern of the condition.

Often in men it can also occur alongside ringworm of the groin. It can help to examine the feet as well, whenever a fungal groin rash appears to see if Athlete’s Foot is concurrent. This is especially important in regard to treatment, as all areas of the body that are affected by the condition need to be treated at the same time to prevent any reinfection.

It’s important to note that there is the potential for Athlete’s Foot to be contagious, especially if it has been caused by a fungal infection. Some people can be exposed to the fungus and not develop the condition, whereas others may find it recurs frequently, requiring medical attention. It isn’t known why some people are more susceptible to it than others.

If it isn’t Athlete’s Foot – What else could it be?

There are many foot rashes that look like Athlete’s Foot but aren’t. The causes of these could be any of the following:

Contact DermatitisAllergic rashes from shoesAllergic reactions to creams or beauty productsDyshidrotic eczema
PsoriasisYeast infectionsOther bacterial infections

As these conditions present in a similar way to Athlete’s Foot it can be helpful to go and get a proper diagnosis from a Doctor to make sure the exact cause of the rash is known. It’s especially important to get a diagnosis so it can be treated properly, so infection is kept to a minimum.

How is Athlete’s Foot diagnosed?

A Doctor may use a test that uses potassium hydroxide to detect traces of fungal infection on your feet. They’ll do this in their surgery before sending it for lab analysis. If you go to see a Dermatologist instead, they’ll be able to perform the test and give you the results within a few minutes in their surgery. On rare occasions, Doctors may request a biopsy of the foot to confirm diagnosis.

Are there any risk factors associated with Athlete’s Foot?

If you walk barefoot in areas that are also used by other barefoot walkers, such as swimming pools, communal showers, changing rooms or even at home on the bathroom floor – you’ll be automatically exposed to the bacteria that cause athlete’s foot. Other risk factors include wearing enclosed footwear, without letting your feet breathe – most especially in Summer, though not exclusively. Moisture that arises from excess sweating or walking on wet floors can also be a contributory factor.

Having a pedicure performed in a salon or other environment which has been previously contaminated with the bacteria is a high-risk factor. If you are already diagnosed with diabetes then you’re at an increased risk of contracting many different foot conditions, and Athlete’s Foot is one of those.

How is Athlete’s Foot treated?

There isn’t one single cause for the condition, and because of this, it means there are varying methods to treat it. However, that said, all cases of the condition benefit from having clean, dry skin that is free from friction. Making sure that your shoes aren’t made from occlusive materials is another good step. Vinyl shoes will cause the feet to remain damp and therefore fungus to breed. However, wearing cotton socks helps to absorb any moisture.

If you suffer from excessive sweating on the feet, then using antiperspirants with a twenty percent aluminium chloride formulation can help. Some Doctors and health professionals recommend soaking your feet in a solution of aluminium acetate and then following this immediately by air drying them with a fan. The process should be repeated four times in thirty minutes.

If your Athlete’s Foot has been caused by a fungal infection, then there are many different treatment options. Medications such as the following are available either on prescription or over the counter, to help treat the causes of Athlete’s Foot:

MiconazoleEconazoleClotrimazoleTerbinafineNaftifine
ButenafineCiclopiroxKetoconazoleEfinaconazoleLuliconazole
SertaconazoleSulconazoleTolnaftate

Treatment of the condition needs to be continued and kept up for up to one month. In some cases, Athlete’s Foot can become more resistant to treatment. In such instances oral medication is given. These can include:

TerbinafineItraconazoleFluconazole

If these are being prescribed, the patient may need to have a liver test to make sure there is no undetected liver disease. If your Athlete’s Foot has been caused by fungus, then it shouldn’t be treated with topical corticosteroid creams. These can act like a petri dish for the fungus and help develop and spread it. However, in non-fungal Athlete’s Foot these creams can be a real help.

If the infection is also in the toenails, then they also need to be treated to avoid reinfection of the feet. In many cases the nails are ignored in terms of treatment and are only spotted as being a cause of reinfection when the Athlete’s Foot keeps coming back. Nail fungus treatment often requires longer periods of applying courses and sometimes also needs oral antifungal medications.

Can I treat Athlete’s Foot at home?

It is always recommended you seek a professional diagnosis for Athlete’s Foot. However, there are some simple home remedies you can try. These include:

Vinegar soaks: Use one part white vinegar to four parts water
Dilute Clorox soaks: Use one part Clorox bleach to one bathtub of water and soak feet only.

Some sufferers say that washing their feet in anti-dandruff shampoos such as Head and Shoulders or Selsun Blue is also very effective.

How do you treat Athlete’s Foot during pregnancy?

You must seek medical advice as many OTC or prescribed creams and medications may be unsuitable for use during pregnancy. It’s more recommended to use dilute vinegar soaks or sprays and Lotrimin cream twice a day for two to three weeks to the soles of the feet. It isn’t recommended that oral treatments are given due to side effects and harm to the fetus. However, always check with your Doctor and OB/GYN beforehand.

When should someone seek medical care for athlete’s foot?

If your skin becomes persistently red, swollen or start to bleed. If the infection does not clear up after treatment at home, then seek professional advice. If you suspect there is a fungal infection, or are diabetic, or have a compromised immune system due to other conditions such as HIV or AIDS then you must seek medical intervention. People with diabetes, HIV/AIDS, cancer, or other immune problems may be more prone to many kinds of infection, including fungal ones.

Can I prevent Athlete’s Foot?

Some people are naturally more prone to fungal infections therefore are more likely to suffer from Athlete’s Foot. You can try some preventative measures such as:

  • Keeping your feet clean and dry
  • Avoiding prolonged contact with moist environments
  • Using cotton socks
  • Removing shoes, and allowing the feet skin to breathe
  • Avoid walking barefoot (specially in public areas like swimming pools and gyms)
  • Avoiding contact with known infected people
  • Avoiding soaking and contaminated tool usage at nail salons.

Some Doctors may recommend weekly applications of a topical antifungal foot cream or sprinkling of antifungal foot powder into your shoes as a help. If you have regular pedicures then make sure you only take your own nail care tools to salons, unless you can be one hundred percent certain that they are adhering to strict sterilisation and cleaning rules.

Myths and Misconceptions About Athletes Foot

There are plenty of myths out there surrounding Athletes Foot.. Do you know which are true and which are complete lies?

Only Athletes suffer from it…

Not true. The condition gets its name because it tends to occur in people who do play a lot of sports, however, it is not true that only sports people suffer from it. Anyone who is exposed to wet places, such as showers, gyms and locker rooms can contract it.

If I shower every day, that will be enough to get rid of it…

No. Keeping clean is a bonus but you’re more likely to get ir from taking a shower than you are from not. Showering alone is not enough to get rid of the bacteria that cause the condition either.

It’s only Athlete’s Foot when there is peeling skin between the toes…

Not everyone who has Athlete’s Foot will have peeling skin. In some it shows as redness or dryness on the bottom of the foot, others can find it causes cracking.

When it’s been treated, it won’t ever come back…

No, not true. In some people it can recur even after medical treatment. Some are just more prone to it than others. If you are exposed again to any sweaty, wet and warm conditions, there are chances that your infection may reappear.

I’ve taken medication, the Athlete’s Foot has gone, therefore I can stop treatment…

No. Just because the signs and symptoms have gone, it doesn’t mean you’re free of the fungus that might have been causing the condition. Finish taking any prescribed courses of medication and using creams/preparations until your Doctor tells you otherwise.

Resources and further reading:

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/athletes-foot/
https://www.healthline.com/health/athletes-foot
https://www.medicinenet.com/athletes_foot/article.htm
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/08/Athlete%27s_foot.jpg
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c0/FeetFungal.JPG
https://unsplash.com/photos/HgoKvtKpyHA
https://unsplash.com/photos/GYr9A2CPMhY