Athlete's Foot

Tips on Treating and Preventing Athlete’s Foot

Even if you’ve never played a sport, you’ve probably dealt with athlete’s foot. But this fungus-caused skin condition – so named for its spread in athletic locker rooms and communal showers – is easily treated and prevented.

Known medically as tinea pedis, athlete’s foot affects up to 15% of the population – most commonly men and older adults – but almost everyone will get it at some point in their lives. 

Athlete’s foot is characterized by cracked, reddened, itchy skin between the toes, especially the little toe and its next-door neighbor. The fungus causing it enters the skin through tiny cracks or wounds and can affect any part of the foot, not just the toes.

It can happen to anyone, but athlete’s foot is easier to catch in places like locker rooms, indoor pools and other moist areas because it needs moisture and warmth to spread. It’s a maddening condition, because the itchiness can be distracting and the affected skin can also feel tight and raw.”

Treatment options

Athlete’s foot has such straightforward symptoms, you probably already know if you’ve got it. Indeed, your doctor would likely know on sight that athlete’s foot is the cause of your foot itch and discomfort. But if the condition isn’t treated, it can spread to toenails and cause a nail infection. 

“This fungus infection can even spread to other skin areas such as the hands, though that rarely occurs,” she explains. “But because of this possible spread – and because basic symptoms are often such a nuisance – you do want to treat athlete’s foot and not let it fester.”

What are your treatment options? They include:

  • Over-the-counter creams, gels, powders, lotions and sprays: These anti-fungal products are typically found in the foot care section of drugstores and contain medications such as terbinafine (Lamisil) or clotrimazole (Lotrimin). Applying twice a day, after washing and drying your feet, can lead to results in two to four weeks. 
  • Prescription-strength creams or ointments: Stronger than their OTC versions, your doctor might prescribe these products for stubborn cases of athlete’s foot.
  • Antifungal pills: Oral medications such as terbinafine or itraconazole may be prescribed for more serious athlete’s foot infections or complications. 
  • Combination treatment involving topical and oral medications.

Tips for prevention

Like any other condition, athlete’s foot is better prevented than dealt with once it develops. I advise these prevention tactics:

  • Dry your feet thoroughly with a towel after showering, bathing or swimming.
  • Don’t wear shoes that are too tight. Preferably, your shoes should allow feet to “breathe.”
  • Alternate footwear by day, avoiding wearing the same shoes two days in a row.
  • Take off shoes as much as possible.
  • Wear flip-flops or shower shoes when at swimming pools, communal showers and locker rooms.
  • Don’t share towels, socks or shoes.
  • Wash socks and towels at hot temperatures to kill fungus.

Athlete’s foot is definitely no fun, but with a little extra caution, it shouldn’t stop you from doing all the fun things you enjoy. If your athlete’s foot isn’t getting better with home measures, make sure to see your doctor.

Advanced Dermatology P.C. and the Center for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery (New York & New Jersey) is one of the leading dermatology centers in the nation, offering highly experienced physicians in the fields of cosmetic and laser dermatology as well as plastic surgery and state-of-the-art medical technologies.

Jennifer Wong, PA-C, is a physician assistant who specializes in dermatology at Advanced Dermatology P.C.

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