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Athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) is a common, highly contagious fungal infection that is characterized by itching, flaking and cracking of the skin. The infection typically develops on the skin between the toes or on the sole of the foot, though the fungi that cause the infection can travel to the rest of the foot or body if left untreated. Athlete’s foot is a superficial fungal infection, meaning it affects a specific area on the external surface of the skin, making it easier to treat than a more widespread systemic infection. Athlete’s foot is a common, highly contagious fungal infection that is characterized by itching, flaking and cracking of the skin. The infection typically develops on the skin between the toes or on the sole of the foot, though the fungi that cause the infection can travel to the rest of the foot or body if left untreated. Athlete’s foot is a superficial fungal infection, meaning it affects a specific area on the external surface of the skin, making it easier to treat than a more widespread systemic infection.
Most athlete’s foot infections are caused by two types of fungi: Trichophyton mentagrophytes and Trichophyton rubrum.
Trichophyton mentagrophytes is responsible for the first two forms of athletes foot:
The symptoms of these two types of athlete’s foot typically are severe and fast in onset, but they can be treated easily.
Trichophyton rubrum is responsible for the third type of athlete’s foot:
Moccasin-type infections are harder to treat because many topical medications cannot penetrate the thick layer of skin to eliminate the fungus.
Athlete’s foot is highly contagious and can be spread by contact with an infected person or by touching contaminated surfaces such as showers, pools, rugs, shoes, towels, and bed linens. Public pools and showers are an especially common source of infection, as the moist environment and heavy foot traffic make an excellent breeding ground for the moisture-seeking fungi.
Around 70% of the population will be infected with athlete’s foot at some point in their lifetime, and about 15% of the population is infected with it at any given time. Men are much more likely than women to get athlete’s foot, especially adolescent males.
You may be at higher risk of contracting athlete’s foot if you:
Your primary care physician can usually diagnose athlete’s foot by asking about your symptoms and looking at your skin. But because infections can be caused by bacteria other than the athlete’s foot fungi, a definitive diagnosis is important for successful treatment. If tests are needed, they may include:
The following are symptoms of athlete’s foot, typically found in between the toes or on the bottoms of the feet:
Mild to moderate cases of athlete’s foot almost always respond well to an over-the-counter anti-fungal treatment. More severe cases, such as advanced moccasin-type athlete’s foot, or persistent infections might require prescription anti-fungal treatment. Preventative measures can be taken to decrease the risk of reoccurring athlete’s foot infections.
Most cases of athlete’s foot are cured without difficulty as long as the condition is diagnosed and treated early. Rare complications include:
If you experience symptoms of any of the above, or symptoms of athlete’s foot, please get checked by a doctor as soon as possible.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) offers these tips to help you be more comfortable and prevent further infections:
Because athlete’s foot is an acute or temporary infection, doctors do not regularly screen for it. Make sure to get regular checkups, and mention any problems you have to your doctor. Take the preventative measures against athlete’s foot listed here.
If you experience any of the symptoms of athlete’s foot, schedule an appointment with your doctor.
Athlete’s foot is highly contagious, but there are ways to cut down your chances of getting it.
The Harvard Medical School recommends the following to prevent athlete’s foot:
Several over-the-counter (OTC) topical anti-fungal medications are available, and are typically effective modes of treatment. These include:
If you don’t see any improvement within two weeks of starting the OTC treatment, speak with your doctor. He or she may prescribe you a topical anti-fungal medication such as:
If these fail, your doctor might prescribe you an oral anti-fungal, such as:
Make sure to wash your hands before and after applying any topical medications.
Many people with athlete’s foot have found alternative treatments helpful. These include:
Although athlete’s foot can be uncomfortable, it’s usually not serious. The American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons suggests you do the following to help your athlete’s foot heal:
Dry your groin area before you dry your feet. Also, put on your socks before your underwear. Both these strategies can keep the fungus from spreading to your groin and causing jock itch.
With the right care, it’s likely your athlete’s foot will clear up without any complications. However, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor if you notice any of the following:
Health professionals who are qualified to diagnose and treat athlete’s foot include:
These are questions you may want to ask your doctor about athlete’s foot:
April is National Foot Care Month as designated by the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). The purpose is to increase public awareness about foot health.
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