Here, were going to look at the symptoms and treatments you might need.
What are the symptoms of athlete’s foot?
First off – you don’t need to be an athlete to get athlete’s foot. It’s a fungal infection of the skin that can happen to anyone. The symptoms are:
- An itchy rash that commonly starts between the little toes
- The skin may crack and peel off and become reddened
- The infection often spreads between all the toes on one or both feet and can spread to the soles of the feet and sides of the feet. There’s a picture of a more extreme example here.
- If untreated it can spread to other people and to the toenails – see the article on fungal nail infections.
- It can also spread to the fingernails and other parts of the body.
What tests will the doctor do for athlete’s foot?
Athlete’s foot is not usually serious so you may not want or need to see the doctor if you’re pretty sure you have athlete’s foot and are otherwise healthy. If you have diabetes, immune problems or other health concerns it might be wise to consult your doctor.
The doctor will examine the feet and may take skin scrapings to send to the lab if there is any doubt about the diagnosis.
What is the treatment for athlete’s foot?
Creams, powders or sprays from the pharmacy will often be enough to kill the infection and treat any repeated infections.
Look in the ‘foot health’ aisle or ask the pharmacist for treatments containing terbinafine (brand name example Lamisil), clotrimazole (Canesten, Mycelex, Lotrizone), ketoconazole, econazole (Pevaryl, Spectazole) or miconazole.
Use the creams as directed on the package. They vary in how often and how long they are to be used. Stopping the treatment too early is the most common reason for the infection coming back.
If the skin is very red and inflamed then your doctor may prescribe a cream with a mild steroid in it, as well as the antifungal agent.
If the tablets are not effective the prescription medication from your doctor may be needed. These are tablets that contain the drugs itraconazole (brand name Sporanox), terbinafine (Lamisil) or griseofulvin (Grifulin V).
You will need to take them for several weeks to make sure the infection is cleared. Tell your doctor or pharmacist if you are/might be pregnant, are breastfeeding or have other medical conditions and medications.
See below for at-home measures to prevent it coming back.
What causes athlete’s foot?
Athlete’s foot is caused by a fungus (called tinea pedis) that lives naturally in small amounts on the skin. However it can multiply in certain conditions and cause an infection. To multiply it needs:
- Damp conditions
- An airless environment.
These are conditions that are most often found in our feet and between the toes when they’re in shoes and boots all day.
The flakes of skin that peel off when you have athlete’s foot are infected with the fungus. These can be picked up on your feet from communal areas such as changing rooms at the gym/swimming pool or from others’ towels.
Who gets athlete’s foot?
Anyone can get athlete’s foot – men, women and children.
What’s the outcome for people with athlete’s foot?
Athlete’s foot is not usually a serious problem and can be successfully treated with creams from the pharmacy.
If it’s left untreated it can spread to other people and to the nails in the foot to give a fungal nail infection.
It can return once it’s been treated, weeks, months or years later. See below for how to prevent athlete’s foot from coming back.
How can I prevent athlete’s foot?
These at-home measures should help to prevent athlete’s foot from coming back:
- Wash and dry the feet thoroughly twice a day. Take care to dry between the toes.
- Change your shoes daily so that they have a chance to dry out (from the foot’s perspiration) and reduce the conditions the fungus likes to breed in.
- Change socks daily and wear cotton socks – nylon can increase the moisture that’s held near the feet and make better conditions for the fungus to thrive.
- Wash your towels, hosiery and socks at high temperature (60C/140F) to kill the fungus.
- Don’t share towels.
- Wear flip-flops or something similar when you’re in the swimming pool/gym changing room to protect your feet.
- Wear flip-flops at home where you can so that the skin of the feet can ‘breathe’.
More about athletes’ foot treatment from Patient.co.uk.
If you’re worried about your symptoms or medical problem but don’t want to seek professional help because you feel embarrassed, silly or that it’s your fault in some way, read this page now: How to talk to a doctor about an embarrassing problem.