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Athlete’s Foot

Athlete’s foot is a contagious fungal infection. It affects the skin of the feet, particularly the sole and in between the toes. It is also known as tinea pedis (foot ringworm) and is a type of ringworm infection (tinea) caused by the fungi called dermatophytes. These fungi thrive in warm, moist environments, making feet an ideal location for the infection. Athlete foot can affect any individual, not only athletes, and is commonly found among adolescents and adults.

Symptoms of Athlete’s Foot

The symptoms of athlete’s foot can vary in severity, but common signs and symptoms include:

  • Itching: Itching is the most common and one of the earliest signs of athlete’s foot. It can range from mild to severe and is typically most pronounced between the toes.
  • Redness and inflammation: Infected areas can get red and swollen. Redness and inflammation can extend beyond the spaces between the toes to involve the soles of the feet.
  • Burning sensation: Many individuals with athlete’s foot experience a burning or stinging sensation in the affected areas.
  • Peeling and scaling: The affected skin may peel off and become flakey. Ongoing dryness on the soles and up the sides of the foot can also develop. In some severe cases, it can peel in large sheets of skin, leaving raw skin underneath.
  • Cracking and fissures: The skin may develop cracks or fissures, especially on the soles of the feet. These cracks can be painful and may bleed in severe cases.
  • Blisters and sores: Fluid-filled blisters can form on the feet, typically on the sides of the feet or on the sole. These blisters can be itchy and may rupture, leading to open sores.
  • Odor: Athlete’s foot can produce a foul odor, often due to the interaction between sweat and the fungus.
  • Discolored toenails: In some individuals, the fungal infection can spread to the toenails, causing them to become discolored, thickened or brittle.
Depending on the severity and location of the infection, athlete’s foot can be categorized into a few groups:

  • Toe-web (interdigital) infection: Most common type of athlete’s foot. Infection affects the space between the toes and is typically seen on the skin between the fourth toe (ring toe) and the fifth toe (pinkie toe).
  • Moccasin-type infection: This type of athlete’s foot infection affects mainly the sole of the foot, and less commonly the toes. With the onset of the infection, the skin of the sole will be sore and will start cracking. In some rare cases, toenails can get infected and break into small pieces and eventually fall out. This is a more severe type of athlete’s foot infection and might need to be treated with oral antifungal medications.
  • Vesicular-type infection: Presence of fluid filled blisters (vesicles) is the key feature of this type of infection. Similar to Moccasin-type infection, vesicular-type infection also mostly affect the sole of your feet. But sometimes, toes can also get affected.
  • Ulcerative infection: This is the rarest type and a more severe form of athlete’s foot infection. In ulcerative infection, blisters have broken to form open sores (ulcers). Typically, ulcerative athlete’s foot affects in between the toes, but ulcers can appear anywhere on the foot.

Who can get athlete’s foot?

Athlete’s foot can affect anyone but is common among adolescents and adults. It is also more common among men than in women. However, certain factors and behaviors can increase the risk of developing the condition such as poor hygiene and use of common showers without shoes. People with diabetes or with a weakened immune system are more likely to develop athlete’s foot. Obese individuals are at high risk of developing athlete’s foot.

What are the causes for athlete’s foot?

Most common fungal types causing Athlete’s foot are Trichophyton, Microsporum, and Epidermophyton. They are known as dermatophytes that colonize and feed on the upper layers of dead skin and cause superficial infections of the skin. Certain factors can increase the risk of exposure to these fungi leading to the development of athlete’s foot including:

  • Warm and moist environment: Fungi causing athlete’s foot thrive in warm and moist environments. Individuals with sweaty feet and people wearing tight fitting shoes with less ventilation will have a higher chance of getting the athlete’s foot.
  • Poor foot hygiene: Poor foot hygiene can increase the risk of athlete’s foot infection. Not properly drying the feet after bathing can make it easier for the fungus to thrive.
  • Sharing personal items: Sharing personal items such as towels, shoes or socks with someone who has athlete’s foot can lead to the transmission of the infection.
  • Tight or poorly ventilated footwear: Wearing shoes that do not allow proper air circulation can create an ideal environment for fungal growth. This is especially common in athletic shoes, hence the term athlete’s foot.
  • Weakened immune system: Individuals with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS, diabetes, or certain autoimmune diseases can be more vulnerable to athlete’s foot as they may have a reduced ability to fight fungal infections.

Yes, athlete’s foot is a contagious fungal infection. It can spread to other parts of the body such as hands and toenails and to other people.

What are the best ways to prevent athlete’s foot?

Preventing exposure to athlete’s foot causing fungi can be achieved by several ways including:

  • Wearing proper footwear to avoid contact with infected surfaces such as shared bathrooms, and locker room floors.
  • Avoid sharing personal items like towels, socks, and shoes with others.
  • Keep your toes and feet clean and dry after a bath/shower. Especially make sure to dry the space between the toes.
  • Change socks regularly and wear clean socks.
  • Wear light and well-ventilated footwear.
  • Try to alternate pairs of shoes to let the shoes give time to dry after each use.
  • Take your shoes off when you go home and let your feet be exposed to the air.
  • Wash the towels and socks in hot water.

Treatment Options for Athlete’s Foot in Phoenix, AZ

You should start the treatments immediately after noticing the athlete’s foot infection, even if the symptoms are mild. Athlete’s foot is successfully treated with topical antifungal treatments in 70%- 75% of patients. There are several over-the-counter topical antifungal medications you can use to treat athlete’s foot including:

  • Topical allylamines: Naftin and terbinafine are common allylamines used to treat antifungal infections including athlete’s foot. Studies show that topical terbinafine might give more effective results in many patients over other topical antifungal treatments (1).
  • Topical azoles: This class of medication includes, clotrimazole, miconazole nitrate, tioconazole, sulconazole nitrate, bifonazole, and econazole nitrate. These types of antifungal medications are proven to be effective when used for 4-6 weeks (2).
  • Topical ciclopirox olamine: Ciclopirox cream, gel, or lotion are applied to the skin to treat athlete’s foot. It is sold under different brand names including, CNL8, Loprox, Penlac, and Ciclodan.

Most of the mild to moderate cases of athlete’s foot can be treated with over-the-counter antifungal medications. However, you may have to consult a healthcare provider before trying over-the-counter antifungal medications if:

  • You have diabetes and the athlete’s foot is severe and looks infected
  • You have developed leaking blisters and open sores
  • The rash has spread to your hands and groins
  • Your toenails are infected
  • The rash would not go away with over-the-counter antifungal medications

There are prescription oral antifungal medications that can be combined with topical antifungal creams. Oral terbinafine and oral itraconazole are considered to be effective for treating severe cases of athlete’s foot.

The athlete’s foot infection can take several weeks to clear with proper treatments. You have to use the treatments consistently to see results and once started you have to finish a full course of medicine to see better results.
Untreated infection can lead to the development of blisters and open sores in the foot and between the toes. If you leave athlete’s foot untreated too long, it can spread to other areas of the body including the nails, hands, and groin. Spreading of the athlete’s foot to multiple areas of the body can reduce the quality of life.

The best treatment option for athlete’s foot is with antifungal medication. Home remedies can help alleviate symptoms and support the healing process. However, home remedies should complement the antifungal treatment, not replace them. Here are some home remedies for athlete’s foot:

  • Baking soda: Baking soda can help to absorb the moisture and keep the feet dry. You can sprinkle some baking soda directly on your feet and into the shoes to keep the feet dry.
  • Apple cider vinegar: Apple cider vinegar has antifungal properties. Mix equal amounts of water and apple cider vinegar. Soak your feet in apple cider vinegar for about 10-15 minutes every other day. Wash again with warm water and dry your feet thoroughly.
  • Garlic: Garlic has natural antifungal properties. Crush a few garlic cloves and apply directly to the affected area. Let it dry and wear a sock to cover the area or wash it off after about 15 minutes and thoroughly dry.
  • Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil has antifungal effects. Add a few drops of tea tree oil to coconut oil or olive oil and apply directly to the affected area. Let it dry and put a sock over the feet for about 1-2 hours. You can also leave it overnight. Some people are allergic to tea tree oil, therefore it is better to do a patch test before doing the tea tree oil treatment.

Final Word on Athlete’s Foot Treatment in Ahwatukee, Central Phoenix and Mesa, Arizona

Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection that mainly affects the feet. It is contagious and typically doesn’t go away without any treatments. Antifungal treatment can be used to successfully treat athlete’s foot. The team at Saguaro Dermatology has successfully treated individuals with a multitude of skin conditions, including the athlete’s foot. Our board-certified dermatologists along with our caring and experienced staff are always ready to help you at Saguaro Dermatology, conveniently located at three dermatology clinics throughout the valley.

Suggested Resources

Ringworm infection: https://saguaroderm.com/services/medical-dermatology/ringworm/
Naftin: https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-6055-4052/naftifine-topical/naftifine-topical/details
Terbinafine: https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-6188/terbinafine-hcl-oral/details
Ciclopirox: https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a604021.html
Itraconazole: https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-128-2179/itraconazole-oral/itraconazole-oral/details

Articles Cited

  1. Thomas B, Falk J, Allan GM. Topical management of tinea pedis. Can Fam Physician. 2021;67(1):30. doi:10.46747/cfp.670130
  2. Crawford F. Athlete’s foot. BMJ Clin Evid. 2009;2009:1712. Published 2009 Jul 20.

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About Saguaro Dermatology

Our comprehensive dermatology clinic is dedicated to providing you with the highest quality of care, innovative practices, helpful resources and state-of-the-art technology to prevent and treat a multitude of skin disorders. Led by Carsten R. Hamann, MD, PhD, Dathan Hamann, MD, FAAD, Michael McBride, DO, Millard Thaler, MD, Mohs Surgeon and Jenna Wald, MD, Mohs Surgeon, our passionate team looks forward to serving you with respect and compassion.

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