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Athlete's Foot: The Sole Story

Athlete's Foot: The Sole Story

Do you suffer from itching, burning, dry, and flaking feet? It could be athlete's foot. Athlete's foot, also known as tinea pedis, can be extremely contagious, often infecting shower floors, gyms, socks and shoes, and anywhere else feet might contact. It's commonly found in public changing areas and bathrooms, dormitory style living quarters, around locker rooms and public swimming pools. "Commons" areas in prisons and residential care facilities are frequently caught feeding the fungus as well. One step in the wrong direction can be enough to start the fire that can be tremendously difficult to treat.

Athlete's foot is most often caused by the same fungus that causes ringworm (tinea). It can be spread by direct contact with an infected body part, contaminated clothing, or by coming in contact with other objects or body parts that have been exposed to the fungus. Although the feet are more frequently assumed to get athlete's foot, tinea can invade other parts of the body as well so long as the proper growing conditions are met.

Tinea thrives in a dark, warm, and moist environment. Body parts that are often infected include the hands, groin, vagina, and scalp. Although many people never experience athlete's foot, around 70% of the population suffers from tinea at some point in their lifetime. Like most ailments, some people are more likely to acquire this fungal infection than others. People with a history of tinea or other skin infections are more likely to suffer from recurrent, or even additional, unrelated infections. The extent to which a person is tormented by the fungus can vary greatly as well.

While some people are never even aware that they have been infected with athlete's foot, others are pestered with mild to moderate symptoms like dry and flaking skin, itching, and redness. Still others are bothered by more severe symptoms including cracked and bleeding skin, intense itching and burning, and even pain when walking. In the worst cases, tinea can cause blistering as well.

The treatment for athlete's foot begins with prevention. Changes in the environment infected with athlete's foot can prevent spreading. Keeping the area that is infected clean and dry with the use of medicated cleansers and powders is essential. Allowing the area to breathe is important in the treatment as well. Exposure to cool air and light can make conditions undesirable for tinea. Treating the infected area with miconazole, tolnaftate, or other medicated creams, ointments, or sprays not only helps to kill the fungus, but helps prevent recurrences as well. White vinegar-based foot soaks can also be beneficial. Seeing a podiatrist is often a good idea when treating athlete's foot, since more often than not, other skin infections can develop from the initial infection, and recurrences are common.