What is Athlete’s Foot (Tinea Pedis)?
Athlete’s Foot is a fungal skin infection on the bottom of the feet and between the toes. The medical name tinea pedis literally translates to ‘ringworm of the foot’ and gets the name ‘Athlete’s Foot’ because of its high prevalence among athletes. It affects the outer layer of the skin and can get very itchy and uncomfortable. It is estimated Athlete’s Foot affects 10-20% of the general population, becoming more common as you get older and with men more likely to suffer than women.
What Causes Athlete’s Foot?
A number of different fungi can be responsible for Athlete’s Foot, the most common (called trichophyton) is found in warm and damp environments, which provide the ideal conditions for fungus to multiply quickly and spread across the foot. For this reason, Athlete’s foot is often contracted from communal showers, changing rooms and closed-in shoes. It also makes Australian’s particularly susceptible due to our often hot and damp climate.
Athlete’s foot is spread through direct contact, meaning you need to be sharing surfaces directly with someone affected, where fungal spores have been left behind.
Athlete’s Foot Symptoms
An Athlete’s Foot fungal infection can look like:
- Red, scaly patches on the skin of your feet
- Your skin breaking down between the toes, which may cause cracks or fissures
- The appearance of peeling on the sole of the foot
- An unpleasant foot odour
- Stinging or burning
- Toenails may also be involved, changing appearance with yellow or brown streaks
How to Get Rid of Athlete’s Foot With Treatment
Before beginning any treatment, it’s essential for your Podiatrist to confirm exactly what is going on as there are several conditions that may look similar to Athlete’s Foot. It’s possible that you may have both a fungal and bacterial infection simultaneously, in which case your required treatment will differ from a fungal infection alone.
Once a fungal infection is confirmed, it’s critical to keep the feet dry, clean, and away from sources of infection. This typically includes:
- Thoroughly drying your feet with a towel after showering or getting wet, including between the toes
- Using absorbent powders or antiperspirant sprays if your feet sweat excessively
- Disinfecting infected shoes, socks, towels, and bath mats to help prevent the spread of infection and reduce the risk of re-infection
- Wearing absorbent socks that will promote a dry environment
- Wearing open or breathable shoes where possible to let the feet air and dry
To treat the infection directly, your Podiatrist will recommend the right anti-fungal product for you to use. There is a range of options such as creams, sprays or powders. This is best decided by your Podiatrist and pharmacist as each is suitable for different situations. Some of the topical (surface) medications can be less effective on the areas of thickened skin like the soles of the feet or where the infection is extensive.
If the infection has spread to your toenails and caused a fungal nail infection, you’ll also need to treat the nails too. This can often be significantly more difficult than treating the skin alone as the fungus can penetrate the nail bed. Your Podiatrist will advise you on the best course of action for this, including the options for laser treatment or oral medication.
Throughout your treatment, care must be taken as the infection can make your skin very fragile and susceptible to damage.
Should You Moisturise Athlete’s Foot?
During your treatment, you should only use creams that contain anti-fungal properties as directed by your podiatrist. Using additional creams may leave too much moisture on the feet, which may work against your treatment goals.
What Happens If Athlete’s Foot Is Left Untreated?
If left untreated, Athlete’s foot can spread to other members of your household, as well as leave your feet feeling itchy, irritated and vulnerable. We recommend always treating an Athlete’s foot infection as soon as you notice it starting.
Will The Infection Come Back?
Fungus spreads easily and can survive for some time on surfaces in the right conditions, so care must be taken to avoid re-infection, as research indicates reinfection rates may be as high as 25%. Reinfection doesn’t necessarily have to come from another person, but can occur from continuing to wear your own infected shoes and socks.
We will explain the best ways to minimise your risk of reinfection and keep the fungus gone. This will include scrubbing down your showers with appropriate antifungal agents and hot washing all of your socks, bath mats and shoe liners with an antifungal washing detergent.
Athlete’s Foot FAQ’s
How to prevent Athlete’s foot
Preventing Athlete’s foot means keeping your feet protected in high-risk areas like public showers and changing rooms. The easiest way is to wear thongs or protective footwear in these areas. Treating any Athlete’s foot infection as soon as you notice can also stop the infection from spreading to others in your household. To prevent re-infection if you’re in the middle of treatment, you can disinfect your shoes, socks, showers, sheets, floors, bathmats and other high-risk surfaces. Avoid sharing socks and shoes with those that have the infection.
Do I need to throw away my shoes if I have Athlete’s foot?
No, there are steps you can take to disinfect your shoes. From using anti-fungal products to maximising the sun’s UV effects, we’ll teach you the best way to keep your feet safe while keeping your shoes!
How long can Athlete’s foot live in shoes?
The fungus responsible for Athlete’s foot can stay alive in the right conditions anywhere from months to years as spores. This is why it’s important to actively treat it.