One of the great myths about foot care is that only athletes or people who shower at the gym get athlete’s foot.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
In fact, athlete’s foot, called tinea pedis in medical terms, can affect anyone, and just about everyone gets it at one time or another. Minor cases will result in dry, itchy, flaky skin between the toes, while the most severe will also include redness and open and sore areas.
Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection of the skin and is typically picked up in communal areas where you walk barefoot, like the shower at your gym or summer camp, or even your own bathroom. You can also get it by wearing someone else’s shoes (be careful renting footwear in bowling alleys and ice rinks). The fungus grows on floors, bath tubs, shower stalls, clothing, anywhere that’s warm, damp, and dark.
The first place you typically experience athlete’s foot is between your toes. From there, the fungal infection can spread to literally anywhere else on your body, especially those areas which are enclosed and remain warm and moist, like your groin. It can also infect your toenails. As with many foot care problems, your footwear figures prominently. Since your shoes typically press your toes together and perspiration keeps the skin damp, once infected, the fungus can spread rapidly.
Symptoms of athlete’s foot
Athlete’s foot causes scaling, flaking, and mild to intense itching of the affected skin. Blisters and cracked skin may also occur, leading to exposed raw skin, pain, swelling, and inflammation. A bacterial infection can accompany the more serious cases, requiring a course of oral antibiotics. Some individuals may experience an allergic reaction to the fungus, causing blisters or vesicles on the hands, chest and arms.
How to avoid athlete’s foot
- Athlete’s foot can easily be avoided by letting your feet “breathe”. Go barefoot as often as possible, especially at home (assuming you have no foot conditions that would prohibit this). In fact, those who go habitually barefoot (such as those in tropical climates), rarely experience athlete’s foot. Being shoewear-free ventilates the skin of your feet, allowing moisture to evaporate and sunlight in to discourage fungal growth.
- If you frequent the shower or sauna at the gym or other communal areas, wear flip flops to avoid contact with the floor. The infection spreads by direct contact with the contaminated area.
- Never wear someone else’s shoes or socks
- Keep your feet dry, especially between your toes
- Don’t wear the same shoes two days in a row – allow them to thoroughly dry between wearing
- Wash your feet daily with soap and water
- Wear shoes which allow your feet to breathe-those that are open toed or are made from materials like leather, cotton, or canvas
- Wear shoes which are wide and roomy
- Always wear clean, dry socks
Treatment of athlete’s foot
If a minor case, over the counter foot creams like Lotrimin or Lamisil usually work well. If your case is severe, see a podiatrist for a diagnosis and treatment program.
***Please note that if you’re diabetic, have an impaired immune system, or are elderly, athlete’s foot can quickly lead to a bacterial skin infection called cellulitis, which requires medical treatment.