Certain fungi are known as dermatophytes commonly infect the skin of the feet to cause a disease known as athlete’s foot or tinea pedis, often a recurring foot fungus. Dermatophytes can be found in warm and moist environments such as school lockers, pool areas, and communal showers. Their growth is also supported by moist sweaty socks and shoes.
A large number of people (about 70%) experience foot fungus at some point in their lives. Men are more affected by tinea pedis than women. It can also occur in younger children before they reach puberty. People with a weakened immune system are also at risk of developing this foot condition. The athlete’s foot is contagious and can be spread through contact with an infected person, clothing items and contaminated surfaces.
SYMPTOMS OF ATHLETE’S FOOT
Athlete’s foot often presents uncomfortable and painful symptoms that include:
- Intense itching of the feet especially between the toes
- White patches between the toes
- Redness, swelling, and burning of the affected skin
- Cracked and bleeding skin
- The appearance of crusty or fluid-filled blisters
Symptoms of the infection usually appear on the webbed skin between the toes in most people. In complicated cases, the infection can spread to the toenails, hands, and groin.
TYPES OF ATHLETE FOOT
Tinea pedis is categorized into three types:
Chronic interdigital athlete’s foot: This is the most common type of foot fungus that is sometimes referred to as toe web infection. Symptoms of the infection occur between the smallest toes. It causes scaling, itching and burning of the affected skin. The infection can extend into the sole of the foot.
Mocassin athlete’s foot: This type of foot fungus usually begins as dry scaly skin on the sole of the foot. As the infection progresses, it can cause the affected skin to thicken and crack. Symptoms often appear on the soles and sides of the feet. It is caused by the dermatophyte Trichophyton rubrum.
Acute Vesicular athlete’s foot: This type of foot fungus is not as common as the other two. It causes fluid-filled blisters that develop beneath the foot, between the toes, or on the heel of the foot. It is caused by the fungi trichophyton mentagrophytes. People with chronic toe web infection are mostly predisposed to this type of athlete’s foot. The blisters are a product of the allergic reactions to foot fungus and can spread to other parts of the body such as the arms, chest, and fingers. This allergic reaction is referred to as Id reaction.
RECURRING FOOT FUNGUS INFECTION DIAGNOSIS
The infection is diagnosed through physical assessment, tests, and microscopy. On most occasions, a doctor can diagnose the infection by simply looking at the feet. Questions regarding exposure to places where the dermatophytes are usually present may be asked in order to find the specific cause. Diagnosis of the infection can be confirmed through a test known as the KOH test or through microscopy. Areas of the skin that appear scaly are scraped and placed on slides to view under the microscope, to view the presence of dermatophytes in the skin sample. A positive KOH test also confirms the presence of infection.
RECURRING FOOT FUNGUS (ATHLETE’S FOOT)
A tinea pedis infection has very high chances of recurring even after treatment. In fact, people with this infection automatically become carriers and are prone to complications and recurrences. Recurrence is usually attributed to a patient’s discontinuance of medication when symptoms of infection are alleviated. To discourage this attitude, doctors usually prescribe large quantities of topical medications to encourage patient use.
The infection is treated using topical or oral antifungal medication depending on the presenting symptoms. In some cases, both forms of treatment are prescribed. Topical medications can be administered for 1-6 weeks depending on the doctor’s or manufacturer’s instructions. For instance, imidazole and Luliconazol creams are applied once in a day for a span of two weeks. Some oral antifungal medications include itraconazole, griseofulvin, and terbinafine. They may be associated with side effects and are only used under severe conditions. Both topical and oral forms of medication can be bought over the counter or prescribed by a doctor. Some may warrant a doctor’s prescription before use.
Treatment usually takes several weeks or a month before producing any effect, due to the stubborn nature of the infection. The infection can return once a person is exposed to the causative fungi even after prior treatment. This is why most people have long-standing and recurring tinea pedis infection. Chronic and recurring infections can be treated using topical medications over several weeks. In severe cases, oral medications may be prescribed as they are often more successful in treating symptoms of the infection.
GETTING RID OF ATHLETE’S FOOT FOR GOOD
The medications mentioned above do not provide a permanent cure for the infection as a person is still exposed to the risk of recurrence even after use. A permanent solution to the problem of recurrence lies in taking preventive measures that protect the feet against the persistent infection. Some of these preventive guidelines are listed below:
Get rid of dead skin: The moment the infection has cleared up, remove dead skin by scrubbing the foot vigorously with a bristle brush. Make sure to pay extra attention to the tiny spaces in between your toes. You can use a test-tube brush to gain more access to the tiny spaces. Once you are done scrubbing, take a shower to get rid of bits of skin that can attach to parts of your body and cause another infection. Taking this precautionary measure is necessary because dead skin can provide room for existing fungi to hide and cause another infection.
Do not stop medication: It has been established that the discontinued use of medication once symptoms of infection have cleared up is what causes the recurrence of foot fungus. To discourage recurring athlete’s foot, it is advised that you continue medication even after the symptoms have been abated. You can use the medication for an additional two or three weeks after treatment to completely eradicate any fungal remnant.
Pay extra attention to your shoes and socks: Avoid waterproof shoes and footwear as they tend to trap perspiration and create a moist environment for dermatophytes to grow. Wear cotton or leather shoes Instead. Ensure to always change your shoes especially if you sweat a lot. Don’t wear the same shoes consecutively for days. Give your shoes enough time to dry (at least 24 hours) after use to prevent moisture entrapment. If you are prone to high levels of perspiration, you should change your shoes at least twice a day.
Imbibe the habit of airing your shoes to dry in the sun. Allow your shoes to dry in between wearings if you can. Use a clean towel or cloth to wipe the straps and the undersides after wearing to get rid of dead skin cells carrying infectious dermatophytes. For good measure, you can spritz a little amount of disinfectant on the cloth before wiping. By taking good care of your shoes this way, you will eliminate the slightest possibility of reinfection.
This applies to your socks too. Wear only cotton socks and change them often especially if you sweat a lot. You can change your socks three to four times a day. Wash and rinse them thoroughly to remove traces of detergent residue that can contribute to reinfection. Ensure to wash them in hot water to eliminate dry and stubborn dermatophytes.
Keep your feet dry and clean: Sprinkle antifungal powder on your toes or use a Sulphur based soap to kill fungus spores if you are susceptible to tinea pedis. Dry your feet with a clean cloth before wearing your shoes, and pay special attention to the spaces between your toes while drying. You can also air-dry your feet naturally or use a drying tool such as a hairdryer or an automated foot dryer. Afterward, you can apply powder to your dried feet to keep them dry for a considerable amount of time.
Watch where you walk: To decrease your exposure to infectious fungi, always wear slippers or shoes to fungi prone areas such as poolsides, gym floors, spas, locker rooms, and the likes. Avoid being around moist and warm places where dermatophytes are bound to be present. Keep your bathrooms dry through proper ventilation and good bathroom practices like frequent cleaning and mopping.