Athlete’s foot is a very common skin infection, which starts off in between the toes and can spread to the rest of the foot. It is not restricted to just athletes, it can develop in anyone who suffers from hot and sweaty feet. It usually produces flaky white and itchy areas of skin between the toes. If it spreads to the rest of the feet, it may cause red scaly patches, usually with a slightly raised edge. The feet often have a yeasty and mouldy smell.
The fungus that causes athlete’s foot can spread from between the toes into the toenails causing them to become yellow, thickened and broken. Underneath the toenails, the tip of the nail becomes flaky and crumbles. A fungal nail infection is not painful but it can make your toenails look unsightly and it can become uncomfortable where shoes press on the thickened nail edges. The infection can also spread to your hands, particularly when these touch the skin between your toes as you apply cream.
Ringworm is caused by the same type of fungal infection, which is transmitted to other parts of the body. The most common sites are the trunk, arms, legs and the scalp. Like athlete’s foot, the rash of ringworm is itchy and scaly, usually in circular patches with a raised edge and flat in the middle. If your scalp is affected, you may notice a patch of hair loss as well as the scaly rash.
The fungus can also affect the groin, mainly in men, causing a condition known as Jock Itch, Dhobie itch or Rugby players’ groin. Symptoms are a red, itchy, scaly rash with a raised edge in the groin area, which may spread to the top of the thighs.
What causes athlete’s foot?
Athlete’s foot is caused by tinea pedis, one of the tinea groups of fungi, as are the other types of rash described in this section. Athlete’s foot is encouraged by warm moist conditions. The fungus is passed on in the small pieces of skin shed from your feet as you walk around barefoot. It is often caught from the damp floor of a changing room or at the swimming pool. As a result, athlete’s foot is more common in teenagers and those who take part in sport. However, athlete’s foot can affect anyone, not just athletes or sporty people. Anyone whose feet are hot and moist for most of the day is particularly at risk.
Infections with the yeast-like fungus Candida albicans, can infect the mouth, cause nappy rash and vaginal thrush.
Fungal infections can spread from one person to another by close skin contact or by sharing towels, shoes and socks.
What treatments are available?
There are many different types of anti-fungal cream, powder and sprays available from your pharmacy to treat athlete’s foot. These all contain an anti-fungal medicine that will help to get rid of the fungus. Some also contain other things to help dry up the skin and help it to heal. The damaged skin is more likely to become infected with other micro-organisms or bacteria, so some athlete’s foot treatments contain an antiseptic to treat or prevent this infection.
- Lotrimin – AF clotrimazole
- Micatin – miconazole nitrate
- Lamisil AT Athlete’s Foot, Lamisil Topical – terbinafine hydrochloride
- Tinactin, Tinaderm – tolnaftate
- Cruex, Desenex – undecenoic acid (also called undecylenic acid)
How to Treat Athlete’s Foot:
- Wash your feet first
- Dry them carefully, particularly between your toes
- Apply cream to the affected area or sprinkle powder onto the feet, between the toes and into shoes and socks
Once the symptoms of the rash have disappeared you should continue with the treatment for another two weeks to ensure that the infection has fully cleared. You may want to continue using the powder regularly to prevent reinfection.
Jock Itch, Dhobie itch, Groin Itch Treatments
If you have ringworm, or the fungal infection is affecting other parts of your body such as your groin, you will usually need to see your doctor for him or her to confirm the diagnosis before you treat it yourself. Clotrimazole is an effective treatment for Jock Itch. Caneston produces athletes’ foot cream with 1% clotrimatozole. For persistent cases of Jock itch / Dhobie itch, the Thrush cream woks better, as it is more concentrated with 2% clotrimatozole. Sometimes yeast infections can spread to the penis, and Canesten thrush cream can also be used for treating this.
You must never use a steroid cream alone (such as hydrocortisone, which you can buy in your local pharmacy) on athlete’s foot, nor on any undiagnosed skin rash, because these may make your athlete’s foot or other rash flare up and get worse. Never use cream borrowed from anyone else, as it may contain a steroid or may not be suitable for your particular condition.
Fungal infections can be persistent and reoccur, athlete’s foot in particular has a high recurrence rate. To make sure you clear up an infection properly you should ensure that you use the treatment exactly as recommended and complete the course.
What else can I do?
Athlete’s foot is more likely to occur if you do not wash your feet often. Wear wool or cotton socks to allow your feet to breath.
- Avoid tight-fitting shoes, and wear sandals or well aerated shoes in summer.
- Use talcum powder to ensure that the feet and groin are extra dry after washing
- Avoid wearing vinyl or plastic shoes
- Wash your feet at least once a day, and dry carefully between your toes
- Do not share towels, shoes or socks with anyone
- Wear plastic shoes or protective socks when at the swimming pool to avoid picking up infections, or spreading your infection to others.
- Treat athlete’s foot sooner rather than later to prevent it spreading to your nails.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after applying medicine to affected areas
When should I see my doctor?
If your athlete’s foot does not clear up after taking the standard off the shelf medicine for a few weeks, see you doctor, as he may be able to provide a stronger anti-fungal cream.
If your athlete’s has spread to your toenails, then you need to see your doctor. He may then prescribe a course of anti fungal tablets or capsules to be taken in conjunction with the creams. If you have diabetes and develop foot problems, do not attempt to treat them yourself, see a doctor immediately.