Athletes Foot

Athlete’s foot, also called tinea pedis, is a skin infection caused by a group of fungi called trichophyton. Athlete’s foot is quite a common condition; about 70% of the population is affected by it at some stage during their life. The rash is mostly confined to the sole, but may also spread to the side or top of the foot. Mostly, it involves the skin between the fourth and fifth toe.

Transmission

As you know, fungus needs moisture to live, therefore showers, steam rooms, swimming pool floors, etc., are the areas which provide a suitable environment for the sustenance and growth of fungus. Here people usually walk barefoot and are likely to catch the infection. The fungus can also transmit directly from one person to another or from exchanging clothing or socks. The chances increase if one: has poor personal hygiene has excessively sweaty feet wears closed shoes most of the time has already damaged or injured skin This fungal infection usually affects the feet but may also occur on (or spread to) other areas of the skin causing conditions such as tinea cruris (involving the groin), tinea capitis (involving the scalp) etc.

Symptoms

An itching and burning sensation in the affected skin, which later on starts peeling off in small flakes. The infection may involve one or both feet and may even spread to the hands (tinea manuum) or to the groin, especially in men (tinea cruris). As the infection gets worse, blisters and skin cracks develop, with increased pain, swelling and bleeding. The exposed raw skin is very susceptible to acquiring secondary bacterial infections that worsen the symptoms. Some unfortunate persons may also develop an allergic response to the fungal infection. This is an eczema-like skin reaction (itching and blister formation), which resolves with the elimination of the fungal infection. Some people do not develop any kind of symptoms or skin lesions and remain unaware of the infection.

Treatment

Athlete’s foot is usually diagnosed by its appearance. Skin scrapings may be examined under the microscope to check for the fungus, or the fungus may be grown in the lab using these skin scrapings to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment involves:

Keeping the area dry and clean

Using topical antifungals such as miconazole, clotrimazole, which are available as creams or powders.

In case of severe infections, oral antifungal drugs (fluconazole, itraconazole) may also be required for two to three weeks Oral antibiotics in case of superimposed bacterial infection – If the nails are involved, more intense and longer treatment is required, usually three to four months of oral antifungal therapy. The treatment of athlete’s foot lasts about four weeks. The medication should be continued for at least a week after the symptoms disappear. It is important to remember that all the infected skin areas including the areas affected by the spread of infection such as hands, groin, arms, etc. should be treated at the same time. Although athlete’s foot responds well to treatment, it may recur, especially when left untreated, such as a nail infection not properly cured.

Prevention is always better than cure.

Observe good foot hygiene (keep feet clean and dry, change socks regularly)

Use cotton socks that absorb sweat

Wear shoes made of leather or other breathable material (avoid vinyl)

Avoid self-medication; correct diagnosis is important for proper treatment. If mistaken for an allergic rash and treated with corticosteroid creams, the result would be a worsened infection, as steroids reduce the body’s immunity and provide a favourable environment for the fungus to grow.