While it can be treated, athlete’s foot is a persistent condition that can be painful and can even make walking difficult. The early signs of athlete’s foot might appear as patches or fissures between the toes. As the infection progresses, the skin often turns red and itchy, even becoming contagious. Fortunately, there are ways to find relief if you are experiencing athlete’s foot. Spotting the symptoms can be fairly straightforward, so you can treat the condition at home or by visiting a podiatrist.
What Is Athlete’s Foot?Athlete’s foot, or tinea pedis, is a common fungal infection. It is a form of ringworm — tineas meaning ringworm and pedis meaning foot or feet. The condition causes an itchy, stinging or burning rash on the skin of one or both feet. It commonly appears between the toes, though it can also affect the tops of your feet, heels and soles. Athlete’s foot can affect anyone. However, it often affects men and people over the age of 60. You might be at higher risk of getting athlete’s foot if you have diabetes, are obese, have a weakened immune system or have tissue damage and wounds on your feet. The condition is common, with estimates suggesting 70% of the population will get athlete’s foot at some point in their lives. Risk factors and causes of athlete’s foot can include:
- Damp socks and shoes.
- Frequently wearing enclosed footwear.
- Sweating heavily.
- Sharing mats, bed linens, clothes or shoes with some who has a fungal infection.
- Walking barefoot in areas where the infection has spread, such as swimming pools or locker rooms.
Symptoms of Athlete’s FootEarly symptoms of athlete’s foot can appear as deep breaks or patches, particularly between the toes. You might notice itchiness or raw skin and feet that appear moist as the infection worsens. Small blisters can spread across the foot and expose the fissures, leading to pain and swelling. If you get athlete’s foot, you might notice the following symptoms on your feet or the skin between the toes:
- Burning, itching and stinging
- Blisters and raw skin
- Cracking, dry and peeling skin
- Ulcers or sores with fluid
- Toenails that break away
- Discolored and weak toenails
How to Prevent Athlete’s FootWhile highly uncomfortable, there are several ways you can prevent athlete’s foot or avoid spreading it to others:
- Wash your feet daily: Use warm, soapy water to wash, rinse and dry your feet completely, especially between the toes. You can also apply a medicated foot powder if you are prone to athlete’s foot.
- Keep your nails clean: Nails can house and spread the infection, making it crucial to keep them clipped short and clean to prevent athlete’s foot.
- Let your feet air out: Since fungi can grow more quickly in warm, humid and dark environments, it’s a good idea to let your feet air out regularly. You can also wear sandals on warm days to help prevent athlete’s foot.
- Change your socks regularly: Be sure to change your socks at least once a day or more if you’re feet are prone to sweatiness. Cotton socks are ideal since they are moisture-wicking and help keep your feet drier than others, like nylon.
- Alternate shoes: You can prevent excess moisture and warmth by switching out your shoes daily, giving them time to dry out before the next use.
- Protect your feet in public: Wear waterproof shoes when you visit public places like pools, showers or locker rooms.
- Avoid sharing linens or shoes: Athlete’s foot is highly contagious, making it essential to be aware of the risks of it spreading. Avoid sharing shoes, linens and unwashed bedding if you live with others.
How to Treat Athlete’s FootAthlete’s foot rarely goes away on its own and, if left untreated, can spread to other parts of the body. Fortunately, there are at-home treatments you can try. In severe cases, a podiatrist can diagnose and treat athlete’s foot symptoms to get you relief. To treat mild athlete’s foot at home, you can use an antifungal product such as clotrimazole after washing and drying your feet. These products and formulations include ointments, gels, lotions, creams, sprays and powders. Apply the product to the affected area as directed until the rash clears. Often, the infection will improve within two to four weeks, but if the condition comes back, you may need to start applying the product again. In the meantime, keep your feet dry, clean and cool and avoid wearing socks or shoes if possible. Avoid scratching your feet, which can spread the fungus to other body parts.
When to Call a DoctorA podiatrist will best know how to treat athlete’s foot, especially regarding severe cases. They can examine your feet, review your symptoms and accurately diagnose your athlete’s foot. They can also provide medical advice and prescribe certain medications to help you feel better. Call a medical professional if your athlete’s foot:
- Doesn’t improve with treatment.
- Spreads to other parts of your body.
- Looks infected or causes discoloration, irritation and swelling.
- Is severe and causing red, itchy, blistered or peeling skin.
- Causes significant disruptions to your daily life.