Athlete’s foot is a common fungal infection that can be itchy and uncomfortable. Despite its name, athlete’s foot doesn’t only affect people playing sports, and anyone can develop this annoying condition. Also called tinea pedis or ringworm of the foot, athlete’s foot can come from a variety of sources. Understanding common causes, treatments, and preventative measures can reduce the likelihood of developing an athlete’s foot infection.
Understanding Athlete’s Foot
Usually developing first between the toes, athlete’s foot can result in a range of irritating symptoms. The fungal infection can form on one or both feet. It can also spread to other parts of the body, such as the hands, nails, and groin.
Typical Symptoms of Athlete’s Foot
- Itching and redness
- Persistent dry skin or skin that appears moist
- Patches, deep breaks, or raw fissures between the toes
- Scaly skin that is cracking, peeling, or flaking
- Red blisters or ulcers that may ooze pus
- Stinging or burning pain between the toes
- Foul-smelling fluid leaking from sores
- Thick, brittle, discolored, or yellowing toenails
Typical Causes of Athlete’s Foot
The root cause of athlete’s foot is fungus that grows on or in the top layer of skin. These fungi, called dermophytes, thrive in environments that are warm and moist. They feed on a protein called keratin that is found in skin, nails, and hair. Non-dermatophytes such as yeast can also sometimes cause athlete’s foot, and the fungus can also grow on other parts of the body. Athlete’s foot is contagious. Understanding the underlying nature of athlete’s foot reveals some typical causes of the irritating condition.
Warm and Damp Public Places
Athlete’s foot can develop after walking barefoot in public places. Most notably, these include locations that tend to be warm and damp. Locker rooms, swimming pools, saunas, hot tubs, and communal showers are common examples. They all have higher levels of foot traffic, frequented by a larger number of people.
Walking barefoot through the changing room at the gym, for instance, leaves your feet and toes vulnerable to infection by the fungus that causes athlete’s foot. The warm, moist floor can be a contaminated surface, along with benches, tables, and other areas.
Shared Personal Items
Shared personal items can expose you to infection, too. Shared towels, shoes, socks, and other personal items may spread the fungi growth to your toes and feet. The same is true with pedicure instruments that have not been sanitized properly. Bed sheets, bath mats, slippers, and other items at hotel properties can also spread the fungus.
Wet or Overly Sweaty Feet
The fungus that causes athlete’s foot thrives in moist environments. When your feet are wet or sweaty for long periods of time, it can encourage fungal growth. Closed shoes, especially plastic-lined, can trap moisture around your feet. Excessive sweating in socks and shoes that do not breathe can also lead to fungal growth.
Untreated Toenail Fungus
In some cases, you may infect yourself with athlete’s foot. Toenail fungus that has not been suitably diagnosed and treated can spread to other areas on your foot and body. The types of fungus that can form around toenails may also survive on the keratin in your skin.
Diabetes or Impaired Immune Systems
While diabetes does not cause athlete’s foot, it does increase a person’s susceptibility to infection. Along with people who have impaired immune systems, people with diabetes can have severe problems if they develop athlete’s foot. The infection can have serious consequences if it leads to or spreads to open cuts or sores.
What to Do if You Have Athlete’s Foot
Athlete’s foot can be a serious condition and should be treated right away. Even if the symptoms appear minor, athlete’s foot can quickly worsen if it is left untreated, and it is a good idea to seek the professional advice of a podiatrist as soon as possible. The skilled team at Shenandoah Podiatry can assess your case and recommend the best course of action. We can suggest steps to offer relief from symptoms and to help prevent future cases of athlete’s foot. It is especially important to see a podiatrist if the infection worsens into sores that leak foul-smelling fluid.
Athlete’s Foot Treatments That Work
- Antifungal creams and powders
- Oral antifungal medications
- Breathable shoes and socks
- Improved foot hygiene, especially between the toes—keeping feet dry, and no walking barefoot in public places
- Treatments for toenail fungus