What is Athlete's Foot?

Athlete's foot, or tinea pedis, is a fungal infection, which is caused by the runaway growth of microscopic fungi that are commonly present wherever people live.

What are Symptoms?

Athlete's foot typically involves a scaly red rash, most often occurring between the toes. It may or may not be "weepy," producing a clear liquid discharge when scratched. The rash may not involve any physical discomfort, but it is most often itchy and uncomfortable. In some cases, it can involve a recurring, burning pain, of mild to moderate severity. Occasionally, athlete's foot may result in blistering or ulcers on a larger scale.

Causes of Athlete's Foot

The underlying cause of athlete's foot is a fungus, which like many microorganisms is ubiquitous to nearly every environment on Earth. It becomes a potentially serious problem when it grows to the point of becoming an itchy and uncomfortable infection with the presence of certain conditions. Athlete's foot presents itself in a warm, moist environment where it can grow and expand. This results in the infection spreading in between the toes.  It most commonly occurs after long periods of time spent wearing tight-fitted shoes, making athletes and office workers (particularly those working long hours) particularly prone to an outbreak.

How Athlete's Foot Spreads

In addition to factors and circumstances in the environment, athlete's foot is spread through direct contact with infected skin, or with materials which have recently been exposed to an infection. Gyms and other workout facilities are frequent contributors; they are often warm and moist environments, which help the fungus survive for longer periods of time without a host. Surfaces, such as benches and floors, as well as softer materials, like socks and towels, can all provide a temporary haven for the microorganism.
Touching infected skin and scratching at the rash can easily result in the transfer of the fungus to other parts of the body. Most commonly, the same fungus contributes to the condition known as "jock itch" when it is transferred to the groin area of the body.

When to See a Doctor

Athlete's foot can be treated by over-the-counter medicines, including powders, lotions, and other ointments. However, you may want to seek professional medical advice in the event of a severe outbreak, such as one involving blistering or ulcers. Other points at which it is advisable to see your doctor are when a case of athlete's foot resists over- the-counter treatment, when it responds to treatment but then regularly recurs, or when it has spread to other parts of the body.

Treatment of Athlete's Foot

In the event that over-the-counter anti-fungal remedies do not work, your doctor may prescribe a stronger medication. This may be a topical cream or ointment, or (as in the case of some of the stronger prescriptions available), it may be a specialized oral anti-fungal treatment. In that case, it is important to ensure that you complete the entire treatment regimen and that you follow the directions of your doctor and prescription.