Athlete's foot

Written by: 
Michelle Roberts, medical writer

What is it?

Athlete's foot, also known as tinea pedis, is a common skin infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. caused by a fungus.

Symptoms

The rash of athlete's foot, which usually begins between the toes, is:

  • Red
  • Itchy
  • Scaly
  • Flaky
  • Dry

The skin may also become cracked, blistered or swollen.

Causes

The infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. is often caught from contact with contaminated surfaces in public places, such as swimming pools or gym changing rooms.

Fungal infections prefer moist skin, which means they are more likely when the skin gets sweaty or is not dried properly - after showering, for example. For this reason, people who have very sweaty feet are more likely to experience problems.

Treatment

It is best to treat athlete's foot as soon as symptoms begin. Most cases can be treated quickly at home with simple measures and antifungal creams, sprays, liquids or powders bought at the pharmacy.

It is important to:

  • Keep the feet clean with regular washing
  • Keep the feet dry, paying particular attention to between the toes.

When using the treatment, make sure you:

  • Always wash your hands both before and after application to stop the infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. spreading
  • Apply it directly to the rash and the surrounding 4-6cm of normal healthy skin
  • Continue the treatment for 1-2 weeks after the rash has gone to clear the fungi and prevent the rash from returning.

If athlete's foot is not treated, symptoms can persist. The infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. may spread to the nails, in which case a longer course of treatment, for example with antifungal tablets, may be needed. The rash may also become infected with bacteriaA group of organisms too small to be seen with the naked eye, which are usually made up of just a single cell., which can be serious and require more treatment.

Prevention

Good hygiene is key:

  • Wear clean socks each day. Making sure they are made of cotton can also help to prevent the feet from getting too sweaty. Leave shoes and socks off whenever possible - when at home, for example - to give the feet an airing
  • If possible, alternate the shoes you wear from day to day
  • Dry the feet properly, particularly between the toes, after showering or bathing
  • Antifungal powders can be used in socks and shoes to help prevent infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites.
  • Wash towels and bedding frequently.
References: 
  1. Clinical Knowledge Summaries (CKS). Fungal (dermatophyte) infections - skin and nails. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: CKS; 2006. Crawford F, Hollis S. Topical treatments for fungal infections of the skin and nails of the foot. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 2.