A while back we talked about fungus and the lovely things it can do to your toenails. However, we didn’t talk about what happens when fungus infects our skin. The most common fungal infection of the foot is athlete’s foot or tinea pedis, if you want to sound really smart. Athlete’s foot was first described in a medical text dated 1888, but had probably been around for centuries. The first reported case in the United States was traced back to 1920 and may have been introduced to the US by soldiers returning from WWI.
The tinea fungus is responsible for the condition we know as athlete’s foot and there are a few important things you should know First of all, athlete’s foot is really only skin deep and therefore not generally dangerous (just uncomfortable and unsightly). The fungus enters the keratin, or first layer of skin, usually on the bottom of the foot or between the toes and starts to grow there. Usually, the keratin layer of our skin is being flaked off and replaced by the skin underneath, but the fungi responsible for athlete’s foot slow down this process and so the skin remains in a constant state of infection.
This type of fungal infection is contracted through either direct contact with an infected person or contact with a surface on which the tinea fungus is present. Behaviors that put you at risk for athlete’s foot include walking barefoot in public showers, locker rooms, or swimming pools, sharing socks or shoes with infected people, wearing tight and enclosed shoes, and keeping your feet wet for long periods of time. The easiest way to avoid issues with athlete’s foot is to avoid the above behaviors! Always wear shoes in public showers and around pools (or any wet or moist place where fungus might like to grow) and keep your feet dry and air them out every once in a while if you wear enclosed shoes for long periods of time (like athletes do).
Signs and symptoms of athlete’s foot include a painful, itchy, burning, stinging feeling between the toes or on the sole of your foot, blisters that itch, cracking and peeling skin between the toes, and discolored or thick nails that pull away from the nail bed. You may experience just one of these symptoms or all of them. Cases can range in severity, but are generally easily treatable with over the counter creams and medications. If your athlete’s foot persists or seems healed and then returns, your doctor may prescribe a topical or oral prescription anti-fungal.
Severe cases of athlete’s foot can present with other symptoms. Allergic reactions to the fungus, secondary infections, and infection spreading to the lymph system can occur and require more serious treatment. Diabetics or those with decreased sensitivity need to monitor their feet closely to check for signs of complications and should see their podiatrist immediately for a treatment plan.
Whether mild or severe, no one likes athlete’s foot. If you think you may have athlete’s foot, please contact your doctor to be sure you are not experiencing symptoms of a more serious problem. Keep your feet dry and wear your shoes to the pool. It’s that simple to avoid the itchy, burning, unsightly problem of athlete’s foot.