Athlete’s Foot: Causes, prevention & treatment

What is athlete’s foot?

Athlete’s foot, also called tinea pedis, is a contagious fungal infection that affects the skin on the feet and can spread to the toenails and sometimes the hands.
The fungal infection is called athlete’s foot because it is commonly seen in athletes. Athlete’s foot isn’t serious, but is sometimes hard to cure.
However, if you have diabetes or a weakened immune system and suspect that you have athlete’s foot, you should call your doctor immediately. Athlete’s foot occurs when the tinea fungus grows on the feet.
You can catch the fungus through direct contact with an infected person or by touching surfaces contaminated with the fungus.
The fungus thrives in warm, moist environments and is commonly found in showers, on locker room floors, and around swimming pools. Anyone can get athlete’s foot, but certain behaviour increases your risk.
Factors that increase your risk of getting athlete’s foot include:
• visiting public places barefoot, especially locker rooms, showers, and swimming pools
• sharing socks, shoes, or towels with an infected person
• wearing tight-fitting, closed-toe shoes
• keeping your feet wet for long periods of time
• having sweaty feet
• having a minor skin or nail injury on your foot
There are many possible symptoms of athlete’s foot. You may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
• itching, stinging, and burning between the toes
• itching, stinging, and burning on the soles of the feet
• blisters on the feet that itch
• cracking and peeling skin on the feet, most commonly between the toes and on the soles
• dry skin on the soles or sides of the feet
• raw skin on the feet
• discoloured, thick, and crumbly toenails
• toenails that pull away from the nail bed
A doctor may diagnose athlete’s foot by the symptoms alone, or may order a skin test if they aren’t sure if a fungal infection is causing your symptoms.
A skin lesion potassium hydroxide (KOH) exam is the most common test for athlete’s foot. A doctor scrapes off a small area of infected skin and places it in potassium hydroxide (KOH).
The KOH destroys normal cells and leaves the fungal cells untouched so they are easy to see under a microscope.

How to prevent, treat the dreaded athlete’s foot

Athlete’s foot can often be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) topical antifungal medications.
If OTC medications don’t successfully treat the fungal infection, your doctor may prescribe topical or oral prescription-strength antifungal medications. OTC topical antifungal medications include miconazole (Desenex), terbinafine (Lamisil AT), clotrimazole (Lotrimin AF), butenafine (Lotrimin Ultra), and tolnaftate (Tinactin). Some of the prescription medications your doctor may prescribe for athlete’s foot include topical, prescription-strength clotrimazole or miconazole, oral antifungal medications such as itraconazole (Sporanox), fluconazole (Diflucan), or prescription-strength terbinafine (Lamisil), topical steroid medications to reduce painful inflammation, or oral antibiotics if bacterial infections develop due to raw skin and blisters. It’s recommended that you soak your feet in salt water or diluted vinegar to help dry up blisters.  Athlete’s foot can lead to complications in some cases where there is a mild allergic reaction to the fungus which can lead to blistering on the feet or hands. It’s also possible for the fungal infection to return after treatment. In more severe complications, a secondary bacterial infection develops. If this is the case, your foot might be swollen, painful, and hot. Pus, drainage, and fever are additional signs of a bacterial infection. It’s also possible for the bacterial infection to spread to the lymph system. A skin infection could lead to lymphangitis (infection of the lymph vessels) or lymphadenitis (infection of the lymph nodes). There are several things you can do to help prevent athlete’s foot infections.
These include:
• Wash your feet with soap and water every day and dry them thoroughly, especially between the toes.
• Sprinkle antifungal powder on your feet every day.
• Don’t share socks, shoes, or towels with others.
• Wear sandals in public showers, around public swimming pools, and in other public places.
• Wear socks made from breathable fibres such as cotton or wool, or made from synthetic fibres that wick moisture away from your skin.
• Change your socks when your feet get sweaty.
• Air your feet when you are at home by going barefoot.
• Wear shoes made of breathable materials.
Alternate between two pairs of shoes, wearing each pair every other day, to give your shoes time to dry out between uses.
Lizel Britz 072 243 7707.

Lizel Britz

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