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Athlete’s Foot is the common name for tinea pedis, a fungal skin infection on the bottom of the feet and between the toes. 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 [1] and with men more likely to suffer than women [2]. 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.

 

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 provides 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.

 

What are the symptoms?

You may have Athlete’s Foot if you notice:

  • 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
  • Itching
  • Stinging or burning
  • Toenails may also be involved, changing appearance with yellow or brown streaks

 

How is Athlete’s Foot treated?

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. [3].

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.

 

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% [4]. 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. 

 

References 

  1. Field LA, Adams BB. Tinea pedis in athletes. Int J Dermatol. 2008;47(5):485‐492. doi:10.1111/j.1365-4632.2008.03443.x
  2. Noble SL, Forbes RC, Stamm PL. Diagnosis and management of common tinea infections. Am Fam Physician. 1998;58(1):163‐178.
  3. Kovitwanichkanont T, Chong AH.  Superficial fungal infections. Australian Journal of General Practice. 2019;48(10). doi: 10.31128/AJGP-05-19-4930
  4. Scher RK, Baran R. Onychomycosis in clinical practice: factors contributing to recurrence. Br J Dermatol. 2003;149 Suppl 65:5‐9. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2133.149.s65.5.x