At any given time, between 3% and 15% of the population has athlete’s foot. The clinical name for this common condition is tinea pedis, and it’s caused by a fungus. Although untreated athlete’s foot isn’t fatal, it may become such an annoyance that it affects your daily life.
How do you know if you have athlete’s foot?
If you have athlete’s foot, the area between the second-to-last and the pinkie toe — the most commonly affected area — feels itchy. The fungus makes your skin turn red, dried, and cracked. Your skin also may get thicker and turn white as well as being flaky and swollen. Small blisters may form on your foot, or you may have sores that leak fluid and have a bad smell.
Left untreated, athlete’s foot can affect the toenails — which may thicken, become discolored or crumble — and even spread to your hands or groin. Additionally, athlete’s foot can make you more vulnerable to bacterial infections, such as cellulitis.
Not only athletes get athlete’s foot
The fungus that causes athlete’s foot is contagious and can be transferred from one person to another through contact. If someone with athlete’s foot uses the shower at the gym before you and you step into the shower barefoot, the fungus can enter small cracks on your feet and begin growing in the top layer of your skin.
The fungus thrives in warm, damp areas, and your feet provide an excellent habitat, especially if your feet are regularly sweaty or your shoes aren’t well-ventilated. Some people are more likely to get athlete’s foot than others. You are at a greater risk if you:
- Use public showers regularly, especially without protection for your feet
- Are male
- Share shoes, towels, bath mats, rugs, or bedding with someone who has athlete’s foot
- Frequently walk barefoot in public areas
Taking some precautions may help you avoid it
There are a few simple steps that may help you avoid getting athlete’s foot. Good personal hygiene is critical if you are at risk of getting athlete’s foot. Additional precautions include:
- Wash and thoroughly dry your feet after exercising
- Avoid using public swimming pools and showers
- Keep your feet cool
- Wear sandals when possible
- Always wash socks after wearing them
- Rotate between pairs of shoes
- Avoid thick socks and closed, heavy shoes
Treating athlete’s foot may be relatively easy
A mild case of athlete’s foot may be easy to treat using an over-the-counter antifungal cream. Those that work best include one of the following active ingredients:
It may take up to two weeks for a topical antifungal medication to work. If the over-the-counter medication doesn’t help after two weeks of use, book an appointment with Alliance Foot & Ankle Specialists.
If you notice sores that leak fluid, or if your hands, nails, or groin are affected, seek medical attention. These are signs that the infection is more than mild, and you may need a prescription-strength medication. People with diabetes should seek medical care at the first sign of athlete’s foot, due to a greater risk of bacterial infection.