Athlete's foot is the most widespread type of fungal infection. It is also called tinea pedis. Athlete's foot is triggered by a fungus that grows on or in the top layer of skin and causes a rash on the skin of the foot. These fungi (plural of fungus) usually grow in the warm, moist areas between the toes.
The infection may spread from person to person when infected people walk barefoot on surfaces such as near swimming pools or in locker rooms. Once you become infected, the fungi grow in your shoes, especially if your shoes are so tight that air cannot move around your feet.
The fungus can produce mild scaling with or without redness and itching and/or burning. The scaling may involve a small area (between the fourth and fifth toes for example) or the entire sole of the foot. In severe cases, the fungus may cause the skin to crack and a bacterial infection can develop, especially in older people and in people with inadequate blood flow to the feet.
A doctor can usually tell that you have athlete's foot simply by looking at your feet.
Athlete's foot can usually be treated at home with over-the-counter medicine. Treatments using drugs that are applied to the skin are considered safer. There is a variety of non-prescription treatment on the market including tolnaftate. The non-prescription medicines are available in creams, lotions, solutions, gels, sprays, ointments, swabs, or powders that are applied to the skin (topical medicine). Treatment lasts from 1 to 6 weeks.
For more serious cases of athlete’s foot, your doctor may give you a prescription for pills. Depending on product used, always read and follow package directions. Oral medication is usually most effective but may have side effects. Sometimes you might need to take oral medication AND apply a topical medication on your feet at the same time to get rid of the infection. Reinfection is common, and athlete's foot needs to be fully treated each time symptoms develop. It is important to complete the full course of any antifungal medicine (cream or pills). Live fungi remain on your skin for days after your symptoms have disappeared. The chances of killing athlete's foot are greatest when you treat it for the prescribed period of time.
You can take measures so that you don't get reinfected with athlete's foot.
- Wearing shower sandals in shared areas like locker rooms.
- Reducing moisture on the feet and in footwear. Using powder, preferably antifungal, on your feet daily help keep your feet dry.
- Wearing open-toe shoes or shoes that “breathe” and frequently changing socks are important, especially during warm weather.
- Drying thoroughly the spaces between toes after bathing.
When to consult a doctor
- If your symptoms do not improve after 2 weeks of treatment or are not gone after 4 weeks of treatment with a non-prescription antifungal medicine.
- If you notice excessive redness, swelling, drainage or fever.
- If you have diabetes and suspect you have athlete's foot.