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Athlete’s Foot: Not Just for Athletes

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After an intense workout, you may notice your sweaty feet soaked your socks and dampened your shoes. While that environment can be uncomfortable for you, it provides ideal conditions for fungi and germs to thrive.

That’s how athlete’s foot — one of the more commonly known foot-related fungal infections — got its name.

But gym buffs, professional ball players, and weekend warriors aren’t the only ones at risk for this condition. “The fungi responsible for athlete’s foot love to hang out in damp places, like showers, locker rooms and swimming pools. It’s really a community problem, but you can prevent it by not sharing towels or walking barefoot in public areas especially on gym mats that retain moisture,” said Dr. Albert D’Angelantonio, III, DPM, FACFAS, at Penn Medicine.

The telltale sign of this infection is that itchy feeling between your toes. Unfortunately, this infection is contagious. You can get infected from other people who have athlete's foot, and the disease can also spread to other parts of the feet and body — especially if you touch the infected area.

What Does Athlete’s Foot Look Like?

“Athlete’s foot typically has a moccasin-shape distribution at the bottom of one’s foot. It looks like scaly, dry, flaky skin that can sometimes turn red with small blisters that ooze. Also, it is commonly located in between your toes. This typically has a white-ish macerated appearance,” explained Dr. Brett Chatman, DPM.

Skin is not the only place the fungi may find a home. They can feed on a protein in your nails, too. If you have athlete’s foot in your toenails, they may appear unusually thick and turn yellow and dull. “Make sure you keep your nails trimmed to an appropriate length and do not share your nail clippers or nail files with anyone else,” Dr. Chatman advised.

How Can Athlete’s Foot Be Treated?

“One of the most common misconceptions about athlete’s foot is that people think that it will go away on its own,” explained Dr. D’Angelantonio. Unfortunately, athlete’s foot does not usually heal on its own. If left untreated, large, painful fissures can also develop. These cracks can expose your feet to bacterial infections, which can make healing more complicated. “Additionally, it can also spread to other areas of your body including your groin,” explained Dr. D’Angelantonio.

Dr. Chatman offered the following tips to help eliminate athlete’s foot:

  1. Clean your feet daily with soap and water and be sure to scrub between your toes.
  2. Make sure your feet are completely dry after bathing.
  3. Always wear a clean pair of socks and wash them after every use.
  4. If you notice your socks are damp, change them.
  5. Purchase an over-the-counter fungal spray or powder and apply a thin layer in your shoes.

Many antifungal products contain allylamines or azoles – the two main effective antifungal ingredients. Additionally, Dr. D’Angelantonio recommends looking for products that contain terbinafine, an antifungal medication that is used to treat fungal infections including athlete’s foot.

Treatment can take several weeks before you start to see improvement. If you aren’t sure which antifungal treatment is right for you, your physician can point you in the right direction.

When Should I Call My Doctor?

If your over-the-counter remedies don’t get rid of the symptoms — or the infection spreads — it is time to see your doctor. They may need to prescribe a stronger medication in pill or tablet form.

In some cases, you should see a doctor as soon as you find any type of rash on your feet. For example, people who have diabetes are more prone to skin infections and should see their doctor as soon as possible to prevent the infection from worsening.

“It’s always a good idea to see a doctor for proper diagnosis,” said Dr. D’Angelantonio, “because it’s not always athlete’s foot. Sometimes people self-diagnose themselves with athlete’s foot when they really have erythrasma or eczema which may require a different treatment plan.”

“Something that I wish more people knew about athlete’s foot is that it is very common. Several patients have stated that they waited to seek care for their foot condition because they were embarrassed,” added Dr. Chatman. “I hope that people will realize that there is nothing to be embarrassed about and that waiting only allows the condition to get worse and puts other people at risk for getting this skin condition.”

The Best Remedy for Athlete’s Foot? Prevention.

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