Who gets athlete's foot?
Athlete's foot is painful, itchy, embarrassing, and very common. It's estimated that anywhere between 3% to 15% of the population is affected by athlete's foot. Although men and older people are more likely to experience it, anyone can get it. Fortunately, there are measures you can take to treat it right away and avoid contracting it.
What is athlete's foot?
Athlete's foot, officially known as tinea pedis, is a common type of ringworm infection that attacks the feet. The fungi that cause athlete's foot are called dermatophytes. Dermatophytes exist in many places ranging from indoors to outdoors, but they especially love warm, moist environments.
Due to this, it's no surprise that these fungi are often found in places like public pools, locker rooms, showers, and other humid places where people walk around barefoot.
Other factors can make a person more susceptible to athlete's foot, including:
- A genetic predisposition (it's common in your family)
- Allergies or eczema
- A weak immune system
- Naturally sweaty feet
- Circulation problems in the legs caused by diabetes or narrow blood vessels
Once your feet are contaminated, the dermatophytes need a good environment to grow. A pair of sweaty, damp socks, or shoes is the perfect environment for growth.
Diagnosis for athlete's foot
If you have athlete's foot, you'll notice one or more of the following symptoms:
- Severe itchiness on your feet
- Cracked, peeling, and blistered skin (especially between the toes)
- Scaling and redness on the soles of the feet
- One or more thickened, cloudy yellow toenails
Diagnosing athlete's foot is very straightforward, and your doctor will likely be able to confirm this just by looking at your feet. They will ask you questions to determine the cause, like where you work, whether you go to any public sports facilities, and what kind of socks and shoes you wear.
For additional confirmation, they will gently scrape some skin from the scaly part of the rash and onto a slide to view under a microscope. This step is used to verify the presence of dermatophytes.
Treatments for athlete's foot
The most crucial part of treating an athlete's foot infection is to cure it completely. That's because even with medical attention, the fungus can come back if your feet are exposed to the same conditions that caused it. For this reason, some people have recurring problems with athlete's foot.
To treat athlete's foot fast and stop it from returning, your doctor will recommend you take preventative measures. Follow these rules of thumb to aid in treatment and avoid getting it again:
- Make sure to thoroughly wash your feet daily.
- Always put on clean, cotton socks after your shower or bath for breathability and sweat absorption.
- Wear sandals at public facilities like locker rooms, pools, and gyms to prevent your feet from coming into contact with fungi.
In addition to these hygienic measures, your doctor will also recommend using an anti-fungal cream to treat the infection. If your case of athlete's foot is mild, they'll recommend an over-the-counter spray, powder, ointment, or cream. The active ingredients in many of these options are drugs known as allylamines or azoles.
These are two groups that encompass different types of anti-fungal medications:
- Allylamines include naftifine and terbinafine.
- Azoles include bifonazole, clotrimazole, miconazole and oxiconazole.
For more serious cases, or if the over-the-counter options aren't helping, your doctor will give you a prescription for something more potent. In extremely severe infections, you will likely be given oral anti-fungal medication.
The most common oral antifungal used to treat athlete's foot is Terbinafine. The prescribed dosage varies depending on age and health, but doctors typically recommend taking a 250 milligram (mg) tablet once a day for six weeks for an average adult.
Possible complications and side effects
Athlete's foot is highly contagious, not only between people but between body parts. It can spread to your hands, especially if you have scratched or picked at the rash. It can also can spread to toenails and the groin, which is known as Jock Itch.
It's also possible to experience side effects from the anti-fungal medication. For instance, common Clotrimazole topical creams can cause negative skin reactions like itching, swelling, blistering, and peeling.
In terms of oral medication, terbinafine can cause certain side effects too. Some common ones include:
These side effects aren't experienced by everyone and can be avoided by taking the medication with food and regularly. This particular medication works best when it's constantly in the bloodstream, so make sure you take the same dose at the same time daily.
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Harvard Health Publishing: "Athlete's Foot (Tinea pedis)."
Mayo Clinic: "Athlete's Foot."
Mayo Clinic: "Terbinafine."
Michigan Medicine: "clotrimazole topical."
National Center for Biotechnology Information: "Athlete's Foot: Overview."
National Center for Biotechnology Information: "Tinea Pedis."
National Center for Biotechnology Information: "What Helps Get Rid of Athlete's Foot?"
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