Itchy, scaly feet? You may have the skin condition athlete's foot. One in 10 people in North America have it. And more than 70 percent of the US population will develop this skin infection at some point in their lifetime. So what exactly causes athlete's foot and how can you prevent it? Read on to find out.
What is athlete's foot?
Athlete's foot is a very common skin infection that affects the feet and other parts of the body that are moist, warm and often irritated. It can show up between your toes, on your hands and even along your groin.
The fungus that causes the condition is usually found in moist, damp locations like gyms, locker rooms, swimming pools, nail salons or in socks or clothing. And while it's not always contagious, it can be passed from person to person (especially if you're in constant contact with someone, like a significant other or a roommate).
Signs you may have athlete's foot
Athlete's foot usually starts out with mild cracking of the skin on your feet.
Some of the other early signs and symptoms include:
- White colored skin around the toes
- Scaling on the skin
If left untreated, athlete's foot can develop into a much more serious skin infection. One or more toenails can become infected (turning green or yellow) and fluid-like blisters can form between the toes. A simple skin sample test from your doctor can confirm an athlete's foot infection.
(Click for information on the skin infection foot cellulitis)
People at high risk for athlete's foot
There are several groups of people who are susceptible to developing athlete's foot.
- People who wear damp socks or tight-fitting shoes
- Anyone who shares mats, rugs or bed linens
- People who frequently use pools, saunas or locker rooms
- People with weakened immune systems
How to treat athlete's foot
If you've been diagnosed with a case of athlete's foot there are several things you can do to treat it.
In most cases, over-the-counter or prescription creams will clean up a case of athlete's foot in four or five weeks. When using a cream, be sure to wash your hands immediately after applying it to an affected area (you don't want the infection to spread).
Use antifungal powder or spray:
If you're active or if you have particularly sweaty feet, treating your shoes or feet with medicated anti-fungal powder or spray will keep athlete's foot bacteria at bay.
See your doctor about medication:
In the most severe cases, oral antifungal medications are necessary to treat a case of athlete's foot.
Tips to prevent athlete's foot
If you develop athlete's foot once, you're 50 percent more likely to develop it again. So it's important you change your lifestyle and foot care regime to stave off any reoccurrences. Here's a quick list of things you can do to prevent the spread of the bacteria:
1. Change the shoes you wear.
Athlete's foot usually develops when skin is too moist or wet so swap your shoes for ones that are more breathable.
2. Buy some sweat-wicking clothes.
Wear socks or clothing made out of sweat-wicking natural fibers. They're more likely to keep your feet dry and will keep sweaty feet at bay.
3. Wear flip-flops in public places.
If you know you'll be walking around public places like a pool or shower, bring a pair of flip-flops with you so you don't step in athlete's foot infected areas.
4. Take care of your feet.
When you're at home, always remember to dry your feet (and in between your toes after a shower). And if you can, go barefoot as often as possible. Your feet will be dryer and less infection-prone as a result.
5. Never share your toiletries.
Whether you're going to a beauty salon or to the gym, bring your own nail clippers or mats. Sharing items with people who have athlete's foot only increases your chance of contracting the condition.
More foot care tips
How to exfoliate your feet
Tips to pamper tired feet
Get your feet sandal ready for summer
Dos and don'ts for safe pedicures
Benefits of going barefoot