Athlete's foot is a fungal infection that causes red, dry, flaking skin, sometimes accompanied by pain, itching or brown spots. The condition usually occurs between the toes or on the soles or sides of the feet. In its acute stage, the infected foot exhibits blisters that itch or "weep" which after time may turn brown. Athlete's Foot can spread to the toenails, causing a nail fungal infection which is often difficult to treat and may become chronic. Often when a patient thinks the feet are only dry and cracking, Athlete's Foot is responsible for the problem.
Fungal infections like Athlete's Foot are often contracted in showers, gyms, dressing rooms, swimming pool lockers, or other warm, damp areas where fungus can thrive. Environmental factors are also responsible; in fact due to high humidity experienced in Malta this condition may be very common. The name of the condition comes from the fact that athletes spend the most time in these environments and therefore are at a higher risk and suffer most from this infection.
Once fungal spores are present on the feet, they can enter fissures or sores and remain there to spread, unless the feet are carefully washed and thoroughly dried after exposure.
Athlete's Foot can spread from between the toes or soles to the toenails. If the patient touches or scratches the infection and then touches other parts of the body, the fungus can spread to fingernails or other parts of the body, including the groin or underarms and vice-versa.
Like any foot condition, Athlete's Foot is of special concern to people with diabetes and compromised immune systems who are more susceptible to developing infections that can lead to serious medical problems.
Treatment and Prevention
Vigilant foot hygiene can prevent Athlete's Foot. Daily washing of the feet with soap and water followed by thorough drying, especially between the toes, is important. Wearing dry, airy shoes and socks (avoid nylon socks or tights), not borrowing footwear from others, avoiding tight hosiery and using anti-mycotic foot powder all help to keep the feet dry and infection-free. When using public showers or pool areas it is a good idea to wear protective shoes.
Once an infection has occurred, it is important to see a podiatrist, to have the problem diagnosed correctly, and treated promptly. Fungal infections can be stubborn and difficult to treat, and can become chronic. Treatment plans may include antifungal medications, either topical or oral, and continued attention to keeping the feet clean and dry. Preventive anti-mycotic foot powders are also commonly advised to prevent reoccurrence.
For more information on toenail fungal infections please click here.