Athlete’s Foot: What Is It? What To Do About It?

At McDermott Footcare, I see Athlete’s Foot on a fairly regular basis.  Here is a primer on what it is, how you get it, how to prevent it and how to get rid of it.

Athlete’s foot (a.k.a. tinea pedis) is caused by a skin fungus.  The skin fungus or dermatophyte is known as trichophyton rubrom.  A common name is ringworm, although it’s not a worm. Here’s what it looks like under a seriously high-powered microscope:

Tinea doesn’t limit itself to the feet.  Variations of tinea infections can show up on other parts of the body.  It is very contagious and can even be caught from cats and dogs.

What does Athlete’s Foot (Tinea Pedis) look like:

  • Most of the time, Athlete’s Foot is found between the toes, especially between the fourth and fifth toes.  It looks like scaling, flaky skin and you may notice some cracking (fissures) in the skin between the toes.  It may be itchy.   The flaking and itching may extend to the bottom of the feet.
  • It may progress to a moccasin-type outline, covering the same area that a moccasin shoe would cover.  You’ll see scaling, flaking, redness, a rash.  It may be itchy.
  • Much less common is Athlete’s Foot with open sores.  This may occur in people with immune – deficient conditions or diabetes.

How do I get Athlete’s Foot?

  • Tinea thrives on hot, sweaty feet that spend a lot of time in covered footwear, especially non-breathable shoes and socks.
  • Athlete’s Foot fungus is found on the floors of public swimming pools, saunas, locker rooms, washrooms, shower stalls.  Walking barefoot in any of these areas increases the chances of picking up the fungus.
  • Poor basic hygiene of the feet is another  cause.

How do I prevent Athlete’s Foot?

  • Daily washing and thorough drying of the feet, especially between the toes, is the first step.  Avoid moisturizer between the toes.
  • Wear sandals or other appropriate footwear in public swimming pools, saunas, locker rooms, shower stalls, washrooms.
  • Wear breathable shoes and socks.  See my McDermott Footcare page (above) on Socks and Shoes for some pointers.
  • Don’t share shoes.
  • Avoid sharing towels if you have Athlete’s Foot or with someone who has Athlete’s Foot.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly – at least 15 seconds – if you touch an infected area.  Be careful not to touch your face or any other part of your body or anyone else before thorough hand washing.

How do I get rid of Athlete’s Foot?

  • Mild, uncomplicated Athlete’s Foot can usually be cleared up without prescription medications.
  • Try a foot soak of 1/4 cup white vinegar with enough warm water just to cover your feet.  Soak for 15 minutes daily until the scaling, flaking, redness, itching are gone.  If you’d like, add a couple of drops of tea tree oil to the solution.  Dry your feet thoroughly after soaking, including between the toes.
  • Over-the-counter Athlete’s Foot powders work well.  Using a cotton ball,  lightly dust the powder over the affected areas.
  • Wear breathable, moisture-wicking cotton socks and breathable canvas or leather shoes.
  • As much as possible, avoid wearing nylon pantyhose.
  • You don’t have to get rid of your shoes.  Spray a solution of a few drops of tea tree oil or white vinegar and 1 or 2 ounces of water inside the shoes.  Air out the shoes.
  • If none of these suggestions solve the problem after a couple of weeks, or if the condition worsens, see your doctor.  She/he can prescribe an anti-fungal cream.

Copyright Terry McDermott. May not be reproduced in whole or in part without permission of author