athlete's foot - All health - Medical Reference Library and Symptom Finder
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athlete's foot

Alternative Names
tinea pedis, dermatophytosis

Athlete's foot is a fungal infection that affects the top layer of the skin.

What is going on in the body?
Athlete's foot is usually caused by a fungus called Trichophyton. It is a common condition that affects some people more than others. The infection is generally limited to the top layer of skin.

What are the signs and symptoms of the disease?
Itching is the most common and annoying symptom of this condition. It usually is what causes a person to check his or her feet for problems. Athlete's foot usually appears as an itchy, red rash between the toes or underneath the arch of the foot. When the condition is severe, small blisters may form, which sometimes contain pus. Sometimes the skin may look inflamed, dry, and scaly, or it may appear non-scaly.

What are the causes and risks of the disease?
Sometimes this condition becomes so uncomfortable that the person cannot perform his or her daily routine. If the infection causes skin breakdown, a bacterial infection can result. Bacterial infection can be very harmful, and sometimes, life threatening.

What can be done to prevent the disease?
To prevent this condition:
  • use an antifungal powder in the shoes
  • wash socks in an antifungal solution
  • change socks daily
  • wash feet regularly with soap and water, and dry completely with a clean towel or cloth
How is the disease diagnosed?
Most people know when they have athlete's foot by its common symptoms. A definite diagnosis can be obtained by sending skin scrapings to a laboratory to be analysed.

What are the long-term effects of the disease?
Symptoms, such as itching, can linger. Sometimes this limits a person's ability to comfortably perform his or her daily routine. The most dangerous long-term effect would be a bacterial infection caused by skin breakdown.

What are the risks to others?
Athlete's foot is thought to be mildly contagious. Many people who are exposed to it do not develop athlete's foot, however. Some doctors advise wearing foot thongs or sandals in public showers and locker rooms. This may help reduce the risk of catching athlete's foot.

What are the treatments for the disease?
Athlete's foot is easy to treat at home using an over-the-counter antifungal cream. The creams may contain tolnaftate, miconazole, or other medications.

If over-the-counter creams do not work, a prescription medication will be needed. The doctor may prescribe antifungal pills, such as itraconazole or fluconazole.

Once the infection has healed, a person should follow the prevention measures listed above. The best way to avoid problems is to check the feet often for signs of anything unusual.

Author: Bill O'Halloran, DPM
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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