Athlete's foot is a very common superficial fungal infection that affects millions of individuals world wide. It is estimated that at least 10 million individuals have some type of fungal skin infections in North America alone. The skin disorder is easily acquired from public places such as swimming pools, gyms, exercise parlors and locker rooms.
The fungus which causes athlete's foot is known as tinea pedis or ringworm. It is most common in the summer and in warm, humid environments. Although the fungus is affects adults, it can also infect children. For some unknown reason, men are more predisposed to developing athlete's foot than women.
The skin disorder usually occurs in between the spaces of the toes but can also spread to the top of the foot or the sides of the soles. In the majority of cases, the treatment is often delayed due to lack of recognition. The condition can be relatively easily treated by many over the counter medications but the severe cases usually require prescription medications.
Athlete's foot can present with numerous symptoms and signs. These signs and symptoms are not present in all individuals. The most common features of athlete's foot include:
- Itching in between the last two toes and on the soles. The itch may be intense and continuous
- Stinging and burning sensation in between the toes and soles
- Blisters of varying size. The skin surrounding the blisters is also itchy
- Peeling and cracking of the skin, especially on the top of the foot
- Dryness of the feet
- Think, ragged and deformed nails
The fungus only infects the superficial layer of the skin. In response to this, the lower layers of the skin make more cells to push off the fungus infection. This leads to thickening and scaling of the infected skin. As the thicker skin pushes the fungi outwards, this results in the spread of infection.
Fungi that cause athletes foot grow in warm and moist environments. Factors which favor growth of this fungus include:
- Wet, humid and moist enclosed environments- such as those created by wearing tight constricting shoes
- socks which do not absorb sweat and keep the feet humid
- constantly wet feet
- wearing plastic or rubber shoes
- excessive sweating
- wearing other individuals shoes or slippers
- sharing foot wear and personal care products in swimming pools, locker rooms
- being immunocompromised (e.g. AIDs)
- having diabetes