Everything You Need to Know About Athlete’s Foot

by | Jul 2, 2018

An athlete is someone who engages in a sport or competitive physical activity.

A foot is the lowest appendage on the human body.

So athlete’s foot is…a fungal infection? And you don’t even have to be an athlete to get it??

Clearly, some things in life just aren’t named appropriately!

Athlete’s foot has a misleading name, but most people are familiar with this common condition. Furthermore, it’s also fairly well-known that the predominant symptom of athlete’s foot is a burning, itching sensation. There are other ones worth noting, however, and we’ll get to them shortly.

Now, whether or not most people know that those symptoms are caused by fungus is another matter altogether.

See, this condition—which is scientifically known as tinea pedis—is a fungal infection that usually starts to develop between toes before spreading to other areas of the foot.

The offending fungus (trichophyton) is transferred via contact, particularly from either contaminated surfaces or individuals who are infected. As with other kinds of fungi, trichophyton needs a damp, warm environment to survive – and feet often provide this.

If you think about a foot encased in a sock and shoe, the “warm” factor probably makes sense, but what about the dampness? Well, this is because your lower limbs rely on hundreds of thousand sweat glands to keep skin moist.

With regards to infection developing on account of contaminated surfaces, the responsible fungus can be found in areas that are warm and humid, such as indoor pool decks, gym locker room floors, and communal showers. Items frequently contaminated include socks, shoes, and towels.

Feet at the Pool

As noted, most individuals can recognize the condition from the itchy, burning sensation experienced in the feet. This tends to be worst immediately after footwear is removed and the skin is exposed to air.

When it comes to the “other” symptoms of tinea pedis, we’re talking about symptoms such as redness, scaly rashes, blisters, and even excessive dryness that can be mistaken for eczema (especially the moccasin variety of this particular skin disorder).

The itching and burning from a case of athlete’s foot can be bad enough by itself, but knowing that you passed it along to your family members will only make you feel worse. Fortunately a little effort can help you prevent this.

When it comes to reducing your odds of passing a fungal infection along to your loved ones, use the following tips:

  • Make sure your family members do not make direct contact with your feet while the infection is present.
  • Wear clean shower shoes or sandals in the bathroom before and after your bath or shower. This keeps fungal sports from finding a temporary residence on the floor until they latch onto family members’ feet.
  • Do not share your socks, shoes, or used towels with anyone else in the family.
  • Use antifungal spray or powder on your feet and in your shoes, in accordance with either our instructions or the ones found on the label.

Athlete’s foot is a common infection caused by a highly-contagious fungus – and that means virtually anyone who has feet possesses at least a certain degree of potential risk for it. That said, the condition tends to be more frequently seen in men.

Besides gender, some of the other risk factors for this infection include:

  • Frequently wearing tight-fitting shoes—and especially models made of materials that do not allow the feet to breathe—and damp socks.
  • Having a weakened immune system that has an impaired ability to fight the infection. An example of this is when diabetes compromises the immune system.
  • Walking barefoot in gym locker rooms, showering areas, and on indoor pool decks.
  • Being exposed to items that have been contaminated by an infected individual. This can include socks, shoes, and towels (as we’ve mentioned), but also rugs, mats, and even bed linens.

Whereas athlete’s foot doesn’t only happen to those who engage in competitive, physical activities, there is an increased risk factor for those who play sports and exercise regularly. This makes sense when you consider the fact that they’re spending a lot of time in locker rooms and that feet become sweaty as they try to stay cool during intense activity.

Tennis Shoes

Mild-to-moderate cases of this condition are often successfully treated with over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal sprays and powders. These products eliminate the offensive fungus and provide relief for the infection’s symptoms.

When using OTC antifungal products, keep in mind that the instructions should be carefully followed for optimal efficacy. Symptoms will normally start to clear up before the condition is completely treated, but this doesn’t mean the infection has been completely eradicated. So make sure to follow the listed directions with regards to length of treatment.

For stubborn or severe cases—ones that do not go away, or have excessive swelling, redness, and/or cause fever (signs indicating an internal infection)—or if you are diabetic, come see us for professional treatment.

Even better than treating an irritating case of athlete’s foot—or any medical condition, actually—is to prevent it from happening in the first place. The follow prevention tips will lower your risk of having to deal with this problem:

  • Keep feet dry. The fungus that causes athlete’s foot needs moisture to survive, and keeping your feet dry as often as possible will reduce your risk of infection. This can be achieved by changing socks often (especially when the pair you are wearing becomes damp or wet) and wearing shoes made from breathable materials (leather, nylon mesh, etc.).
  • Alternate between two pairs of shoes. Having two pairs of shoes and alternating between them every other day gives a 24-hour window for each pair to dry completely between uses.
  • Wear shoes that breathe. Avoid buying footwear made from materials like vinyl or rubber, since those materials will only serve to trap the moisture in and make athlete’s foot more likely.
  • Protect your feet. If you are walking in a locker room, communal showering area (like at the gym or pool), or on a pool deck, keep your feet safe from potential contamination by wearing shower shoes or sandals. Damp, warm environments like those could otherwise increase your risk of picking up the fungus responsible for athlete’s foot!
  • Proactively use antifungal products. Sure, OTC sprays and powders will clear up an existing infection, but you can use them to keep the issue from arising in the first place! Simply spray or sprinkle on your feet before putting on your socks in the morning or going to bed at night.

For more information about athlete’s foot, treatment for fungal infections in your lower limbs, or to request an appointment for any of the comprehensive podiatric treatments we offer, don’t hesitate to give us a call at (518) 273-0053.

You can also connect with Capital District Podiatry right now via our online contact form!

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