Athlete’s Foot: Causes and Prevention

Fun, yet pesky Fact: You don’t have to be an athlete to have “athlete’s foot” (aka tinea pedis). It is a fungal infection that causes red, scaly patches on the feet and between the toes. Because Athlete’s Foot is mildly contagious, you might pick it up by walking barefoot in public areas like gyms, locker rooms, or pool decks. Fungus loves to live in warm, wet areas so sweaty feet in closed shoes can make it worse!

There are four main types of athlete’s foot, all of which have a different clinical presentation:

  • Toe Web Infection – Your doctor may call this an interdigital infection. That just means it’s between the fingers or toes. It usually starts on the skin between your fourth and fifth (i.e. pinkie) toes. Sometimes bacteria take hold and make the fungal infection worse.

Symptoms: You may feel a burning sensation between your toes. The skin may be red, peeling, or scaly, and the rash may smell or give off discharge. In very bad cases, your skin may take on a green color.

  • Moccasin Infection – If the fungus covers the sole of your foot, it’s called a moccasin infection. You may see the rash spread along your heel and up the side of your foot as well.

Symptoms: At first, your feet may just feel sore, dry, or slightly itchy. After a while, the skin thickens, cracks, or peels. If the infection advances to your nails, your toenails may also get thick and crumbly. Sometimes the nails even come out.

  • Vesicular Infection – Vesicles are the medical term for blisters, and that’s exactly what marks this type of infection. If the blisters burst, you could get a bacterial infection and need antibiotics.

Symptoms: Vesicular infections happen anywhere on your foot. But the small, red blisters usually pop up on your soles or between your toes. The rash may feel itchy or painful. It can be worse in the summer.

  • Ulcerative Infection – It’s unusual, but sometimes feet develop open sores, or ulcers. Those ulcers are also open to an infection by bacteria. You’ll need antibiotics to treat this.

Symptoms: In addition to sores that may ooze discharge, your skin gets very inflamed and discolored. This type of infection is usually very painful.

The risk of developing athlete’s foot can also depend on your susceptibility. For example, people who have impaired immune systems or diabetes are at greater risk of infection if they have an open cut or sore on their feet.

To avoid getting athlete’s foot, wear flip-flops in communal areas. Wash your feet with soap and water every day, then completely dry them after washing. Make sure to change your socks whenever they are wet, or at least once a day. If possible, alternate your shoes. Don’t share towels, clothing, or shoes with someone who might have it.

Athlete’s foot is an annoying condition but it’s easy to treat. For mild cases, over the counter antifungal creams usually work. If it’s severe, you might need a prescription.