Athlete’s foot is a skin fungal infection. It can lead to intense itching, cracked, blistered or peeling areas of skin, redness and scaling. It can occur on moist, waterlogged skin usually between the fourth and fifth toes initially, or on dry, flaky skin around the heels or elsewhere on the foot. Large painful fissures can also develop and the condition can also spread along all five toes and sometimes to the soles of the feet if left untreated.
Athlete’s foot is caused by a number of fungal species which you can pick up from someone else shedding affected skin (typically in communal areas such as pools, showers and changing rooms) or where you may walk around barefoot. Athlete’s foot can also be passed on directly from person to person contact, although people who sweat more are much more prone to infection.
If left untreated, the fungus can spread to the toe nails causing thickening and yellowing of the nail which is much harder to treat. Fungal infections are highly contagious and can spread to anywhere on your skin – including your scalp, hands and even your groin. This is especially likely if you use the same towel for your feet as for the rest of your body. It is always best to treat this condition as soon as symptoms are first noticed.
Treatments depend on what type of Athlete’s foot you have. If the condition occurs on a dry area such as the heel, you need to restore moisture by rubbing in an anti-fungal cream or spray, sometimes combined with a steroid cream (all from your pharmacist). If the skin conditions are moist, the condition requires an altogether different type of treatment - wash the feet in cold water (hot water only makes feet fungus-friendly) then dry them thoroughly after washing, preferably with a separate towel or even kitchen roll. It is important to dab your feet dry rather than rub them, as rubbing tends to take away any healing skin. A spirit-based preparation can help such as surgical spirit (it’s cooling, soothing and antiseptic). This may sting a little but will evaporate the moisture and allow the skin to heal.
In severe cases, sometimes an anti-fungal tablet is prescribed. However, tablets are not suitable for everyone (for example, pregnant women0 so always check with your pharmacist and follow the instructions carefully.
Athlete's foot can usually be prevented by:
- Not walking barefoot, particularly in public areas.
- Reducing foot perspiration by using talcum powder.
- Wearing light and airy shoes.
- Wearing socks that keep your feet dry, and changing them frequently .