Athlete's foot or Tinea pedis is an infection in the skin of the feet by a fungus, most often of the genus Trichophyton. The infection is usually confined to the feet, but the same kind of infection can also spread to other body areas, for example the groin.
Athlete's foot gives whitish layers looking like powder or like small flakes upon the skin, and the affected areas will be itching. The skin can peel or the flakes can scale off and thereby also cause cracks or sores. The skin can also get inflamed, red and swollen and sometimes there are blisters.
Sometimes the weakened skin will also get infected by other fungi or by bacteria so that worsened or additional symptoms occur. There can be an allergic reaction towards the fungus and this reaction can affect other areas of the skin than the site of the infection and cause symptoms of inflammation and blisters also there, for example in the hands.
The infection usually begins between the outermost toes, the fourth and fifth ones. From the site of origin the infection can spread to other areas of the foot, for example over several toes and the heels. Sometimes the infection spread under the nails and into the nails. Affected nails will get thicker, miscolored and brittle.
Athlete's foot can be mistaken for other types of infection in the foot skin, for example foot ringworm caused by other types of parasitic fungi. Ringworm causes thick circular or ring-shaped lesions.
The primary cause of athletes foot is transmission of the fungus from infected individuals to new hosts. Such transmission most often occur in moist areas where people walk barefoot, like locker rooms and showers. The fungus often spread through shared towels or other shared equipment.
The fungus most easily grow and infect the feet if the feet are not cleaned well each day, if the feet are kept moist, sweat and warm and if you use tight footwear that hold moisture inside.
The physician can usually diagnose the infection only by looking at the feet of the patient. When in doubt specimens from the skin can be examined more specifically.
By the KOH-test a little material from the affected areas is scraped off, then applied onto a glass plate. then treated by a solution of the etching basic substance potassium hydroxide. The skin cells in the specimen will then get dissolved, but not the fungus. Then the treated specimen is examined in the microscope where the structures belonging to the fungus can be seen.
You can prevent this type of skin infection at the feet by several simple measures:
- Wash your feet well every day.
- Dry your feet well when they have been wet, and especially between your toes.
- Do not use dirty socks or shoes. Wash your socks with the hottest possible water.
- Have some footwear on when you are together with other people in locker rooms and showers.
- Use daily footwear that allows exchange of air between your feet and the outside.
- The footwear should keep your feet pleasantly warm, but not so warm that you are sweating.
- Using moisture absorbing powder like talcum on the feet after wash can further help to keep the skin dry and prevent the infection.
The measures to prevent athlete's foot will also be a part of the treatment for the infection, and these measures can be enough to make the infection go away.
As further remedies for the infection you can use gels, salves. sprays or powders with anti-fungal ingredients like miconazole, clotrimazole (Canestene), nystatine or tolnaftate. Many of these products can be bought over the counter without prescription.
When the foot has been attacked by additional infections from bacteria, these must be treated by antibiotics prescribed by a physician.
Another good remedy is 1% solution of potassium permanganate in warm water. Natural remedies containing tea tree oil or the compound ajoene extracted from garlic are also used as measures against athlete's foot.
To be sure the infection is fought down, one must often use the drug in a period of 45 days or more and apply it one or two times a day. The itching will typically cease quickly, but that does not mean that the infection is completely cured. It is common to recommend continuing the treatment 4 weeks after all symptoms have gone away.
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