Don’t let the name mislead you: You don’t have to be an athlete to get athlete’s foot. With the right conditions, anyone is susceptible to this irritating and painful foot ailment. Here, we’re educating you about the causes, symptoms and treatment of athlete’s foot and will provide a simple tip to help you avoid contracting this uncomfortable fungal infection. Spoiler alert: It involves shoes.
Moist, sweaty feet are the perfect breeding ground for athlete’s foot. Since most of us aren’t apt to talk about this subject while sharing the weekend’s sports results with friends, we asked Karie King, Renown Medical Group Physician Assistant, to give us the play-by-play about what athlete’s foot is, what it looks like, over-the-counter treatment options and when to seek medical care.
Athlete’s foot is caused by a fungus that can spread easily when you touch the toes or feet of someone who has the infection or walk barefoot in public places like locker rooms, swimming pool areas, gyms, airport security or showers. The fungi then grow in your shoes, especially if your shoes are tight and air cannot move around your feet. The rash can appear suddenly or progress slowly over time, on one or both feet; it can be self-limited, intermittent or chronic.
If you’ve contracted athlete’s foot, you’ll notice a red rash on your feet, dry and scaly skin with cracks and blisters, or moist white skin between the toes. Your skin will be mild to moderately itchy, and sometimes you may experience pain or a burning sensation. The rash can extend from the toes to the bottom and sides of the feet.
How to Treat Your Athlete’s Foot
- Most important? Keep feet dry, especially between the toes. Dry your toes thoroughly after showers or swimming, and change socks once or twice daily depending on the moisture level of your feet.
- Tea tree oil can help reduce symptoms 10 percent of the time, but note that it does not work at the microbiological level in curing the fungal infection.
- Place lamb’s wool between toes and try wearing wide-toed shoes.
- Use over-the-counter antifungal creams and products once to twice daily as directed for at least four weeks.
- Prescription antifungal creams and ointments are available as prescribed by your doctor.
- Oral medications are reserved for severe infections. And because they pass through your liver, blood work is required to monitor liver function if you’re taking the medication more than six weeks. Avoid alcohol and Tylenol while taking oral antifungal medication.
Do over-the-counter meds actually work? Karie says yes.
“Topical over-the-counter antifungals typically work really well,” she notes. But she also recommends you, “see a medical provider if you have tried the home-care, over-the-counter antifungal creams for four weeks without result, or if you have ulcers, cuts, swelling or areas that are getting warm and red.”
And once you’ve successfully eliminated the fungus, do yourself a service: Avoid reinfection simply by wearing sandals or thongs in public places rather than going barefoot.
Your feet will thank you.