Athlete’s Foot is caused by a fungus that is attracted to the dark, moist conditions inside shoes and between toes. The resulting symptoms can be incredibly uncomfortable and annoying, but they're usually not dangerous and are often easy to treat. The fungus leads to a persistently itchy foot, often between the toes, that’s accompanied by peeling, cracking or scaly skin.
Causes of Athlete’s Foot
Several types of fungus can cause athlete’s foot. Known in medical terms as tinea pedis, the condition earned its nickname because the pools, showers and locker rooms where athletes frequently walk around barefoot are a breeding ground for the fungi.
Once the fungi reach the toes, itching is usually the first noticeable symptom. If left untreated, it can spread to the soles of the feet and toenails, and even to the groin and other parts of the body if you touch your feet and then other body parts. In addition, the symptoms can worsen and lead to inflammation and blisters.
Treating Athlete's Foot
Once detected, athlete’s foot is not a difficult disease to treat. Several over-the-counter creams, sprays and powders can directly eliminate the fungus. These medications contain the antifungal agents tolnaftate, clotrimazole or miconazole.
It’s also important to follow good hygiene practices while the condition is healing and to take steps to prevent future outbreaks. This includes changing socks several times during the day and not wearing the same pair of shoes every day. It's also a good idea to leave feet bare for periods of time to let them “air out.” Always, before putting on socks and shoes, thoroughly dry your feet after showers or swimming. (Use a hair dryer if needed to really get them dry.) Finally, wear shower shoes in public showers.
SOURCES: American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society; American Podiatric Medical Association; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention