Athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) is a common and contagious fungal infection that typically begins between the toes and can develop on one or both feet, especially in individuals with sweaty feet that frequently wear tight-fitting shoes.
Although athlete’s foot is a well-known condition, it must be treated as soon as possible to prevent complications and reduce the spread of infection to other individuals.
Please keep reading for a complete overview of athlete’s foot, so you know how to prevent it, spot it, treat it, or when it may be time to schedule an appointment with a podiatrist.
What Can Cause Athlete’s Foot?
Highly transmittable, the infectious fungus spreads by direct contact with an infected individual or contaminated surfaces:
- Bed Linens
- Floors (e.g., communal locker rooms, public swimming pools, etc.)
- Mats (e.g., wrestling mats, yoga mats, etc.)
A patient may also spread the fungal infection to other areas of their body, particularly warm and moist areas such as the groin (jock itch). Individuals can reduce the risk of spreading the infection by not scratching and picking at the infected area.
Athlete’s foot may initially infect only one foot, but it can quickly spread to the other without prompt treatment.
Common symptoms to look for include:
- Scaly, peeling, and cracked skin between the toes.
- Itchiness between the toes and the bottom of the foot after taking your shoes and socks off.
- Skin inflammation between the toes and the bottom of the foot that may appear in shades of red, purple, and gray, depending on your natural skin tone.
- Dry, scaly skin on the bottom of the foot and extending up the sides.
When Should You See a Doctor?
If you are experiencing a persistent or worsening rash on the bottom of your feet two weeks after beginning at-home treatment with over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal medications will require a more potent antifungal drug that is only accessible with a doctor’s prescription.
Individuals with diabetes should always make an appointment with their doctors if they suspect athlete’s foot, especially if there are signs of a worsening infection, such as:
- Swelling of the Infected Area,
- Pus, and
Athlete’s foot complications can be significant and more challenging to manage in patients with diabetes. So, medical intervention must occur as early on as possible.
Possible Complications of Athlete’s Foot
The risk of developing complications from athlete’s foot increases the longer the infection persists without proper treatment.
Complications include other fungal infections of the foot, such as a fungal nail infection (onychomycosis), which can cause pain, as well as difficulties wearing shoes and walking. However, patients may also develop secondary bacterial infections in which the foot can become hot, painful, and swollen.
Bacterial infections associated with athlete’s foot include:
- Lymphangitis – infection of the body’s lymph vessels
- Lymphadenitis – infection of the lymph nodes
- Cellulitis (rare) – a deep skin bacterial infection with potentially serious complications (septicemia/blood poisoning, bone infection, etc.).
Treatment: Prescription Intervention
Most athlete’s foot cases consist of mild symptoms. Patients can clear these infections with common OTC antifungal medication.
In severe cases, a doctor may prescribe a more robust antifungal intervention.
Common prescription medication to help manage infection symptoms may also be available in lower doses as an OTC drug, such as Hydrocortisone.
Prescription Antifungal Medications
Prescription antifungal drugs typically come in a pill or tablet form. A doctor may prescribe:
- Itraconazole, and
Over-the-Counter Antifungal Medications
OTC antifungal solutions include:
- Sprays, and
- Creams (topicals).
Patients looking for topical medications may ask the pharmacist for a recommendation. Common OTC antifungal topicals include:
- Terbinafine, and
Drug Interactions & Side Effects
Patients relating to the following circumstances must thoroughly discuss the use of OTC and prescription oral antifungal medications to avoid adverse drug interactions and side effects:
- Antacids – patients’ antacids may impair the effectiveness of certain oral medications.
- Anticoagulant Drugs – oral medications may impair the efficacy of anticoagulant drugs.
- Elderly and Young Children – certain oral medications are unsuitable for the elderly and young children.
- Pregnancy – some oral medications are unsuitable for pregnant patients.
- Reproductive Systems – oral medications may interfere with female and male reproductive systems.
At-Home Remedies: Clearing & Preventing Infection
Whether they are trying to clear an infection and keep it from coming back or looking to prevent athlete’s foot entirely, there are some things people can do at home to help:
- Soaking feet in diluted vinegar or salt water to safely eliminate blisters.
- Washing feet often with unscented, alcohol-free, and paraben-free hydrating soap and warm water.
- Thoroughly drying feet after bathing or after getting them wet.
- Changing socks often and wearing moisture-wicking socks (e.g., cotton, silk, and wool).
- Letting shoes dry out after each wear.
- Washing towels regularly and never sharing them.
The Foot & Ankle Center
Let The Foot & Ankle Center podiatrists help you with your foot and ankle concerns and needs.
Our skilled and experienced team members provide comprehensive treatment for all types of patients and injuries, fungal infections, skeletal complications, and more!
For more information, please call us at (314) 487-9300.