Athlete's Foot - What you need to know

A lot of people suffer from the misery and irritation of athlete’s foot, especially when it shows no signs of a permanent cure. A surprisingly large number of people suffer from the condition, but it is often quite easy to treat. With the right treatment, there is no reason for it to recur as well. But you must know more about what causes it and how to treat it.

What is Athlete’s Foot?

Athlete’s foot is a common fungal infection that most commonly occurs on the foot, especially in the webbing between the toes. It is caused by an abnormal build-up of the normally harmless fungi (or dermatophytes) that live on the skin naturally, and which are normally present in controlled amounts. However, these may grow in number in response to humid conditions (i.e. warm and damp) usually prevalent within one’s tight shoes. Eventually, this buildup of the fungi causes an infection, and dermatophytes feed off the dead skin tissue that is created during this infection.

Athlete's foot occurs most often between the toes. The condition is characterised by red spots and flaky skin between the toes, though it can also occur on other surfaces of the skin, such as on the top of the foot or even the sole.

Athlete’s foot spreads easily, both on the skin of the sufferer and also from person to person. The fungi feeding off it are able to survive and multiply in humid places, especially showers and swimming pools, as well as inside the shoes.

If you have picked up this infection, it could be the result of being exposed to the fungi in a number of different places. Walking barefoot in public areas, locker rooms or communal showers can all result in picking up the infection. Also, indirect contact with contaminated objects such as towels, bed sheets and clothing (socks and shoes in particular) can be another cause. 

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms of athlete’s foot are:

  • Itchiness
  • Swelling
  • Red and/or flaky skin
  • Dry skin
  • In more severe cases, the bottom of the feet may become inflamed and have small blisters. These blisters can cause the skin to become cracked, and it is quite painful
  • Over time, this infection can spread to the sole and side of your foot, producing redness and scaling in these areas of the skin
  • If you have severe athlete's foot that causes your skin to become cracked, it may lead to the raw tissue underneath being exposed and leading to further infection


How can it be treated?

The severity of the infection and its possible reasons for occurrence can determine the treatment options for athlete’s foot. Please see your doctor if you feel that your symptoms are becoming more severe over time or if the infection recurs repeatedly.

Good foot hygiene normally prevents recurrence of the infection. Try these tips to get some relief:

  • Change your socks daily. If you’ve used a pair, put it away for washing and take a fresh pair
  • Don’t wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row. Instead, let them air out and become completely dry of sweat before you wear them again. If you suspect that a particular pair of shoes causes the infection, throw it away at once
  • Clean your bath area once a week with disinfectant
  • Wear flip flops or special shower shoes in communal areas
  • Take care to dry between your toes after swimming or showering
  • When indoors take your shoes off to keep the feet dry
  • Disinfect your shoes regularly
  • Wear open toed footwear or light shoes that allow your feet to breathe
  • Don’t share towels, flannels or footwear with anyone else.
  • Keep a watch on your feet, especially between the toes, for signs of an infection.


More tips to prevent athlete's foot recurrence

Always make sure that you finish the full course of treatment. The fungi on your skin are remarkably resilient, and they may remain active on the skin for several days even after the symptoms of infection have disappeared. The chances of killing athlete's foot are the highest when you treat it for the prescribed amount of time, take your meds and follow a healthy diet. Many people make the mistake of stopping the treatment once the symptoms subside. However, the fungus may still be present in the skin and may restart a fresh infection.

Washing clothes in soapy, warm water may not kill the fungi that cause athlete's foot. Use hot water and bleach to increase the chance of killing fungi on your socks and other clothes.[1]