Athlete's foot is an extremely common skin infection of the foot, often appearing between the 3rd, 4th and 5th toes. It is caused by infection of the foot by a fungus.
What Causes Athlete's Foot?
The fungus responsible for athlete's foot is called Trichophyton. It grows in warm, moist conditions, the conditions found inside a shoe or trainer. In such environments the fungus can thrive and infect the upper skin layers of the foot. Without moist, warm conditions the fungus cannot grow.
The fungus is normally passed from person to person by direct contact, either from floors or from infected items such as socks or towels.
The main symptoms are itching, burning and irritation of the toes and feet.
The skin usually flakes or peels, especially between the toes. Sometimes the skin might crack and the cracks might bleed. If the cracked skin is then infected by a bacteria, a bad smell is often caused. This smell can be similar to rotten eggs.
Will I Have Any Tests Or Investigations?
There is usually no need for any tests or investigations, as athlete's foot is easy to recognise and identify. Sometimes skin samples are taken for analysis and to confirm the diagnosis, but this is rarely needed.
What Treatment Might I Need?
Because the underlying problem is a fungal infection, anti-fungal treatment is needed.
Many of these treatments are now available from your local pharmacist without a doctor's prescription (known over-the-counter treatments). These anti-fungal creams need to be applied to the skin every day for at least four weeks. The most common treatments include miconazole and cotrimazole creams.
Your GP or pharmacist will be able to advise you on the treatment that is most appropriate for you.
What Course Will The Illness Follow?
If the correct treatment is used for at least one month, and strict patterns of hygiene are followed, most cases of athlete's foot clear up very quickly.
It is important to keep the feet clean and dry and to use the medication every day for at least four weeks.
If there is increased pain, the area becomes swollen or the infection does not seem to be getting any better, you should see your doctor as the skin may also be infected by a bacteria. A bacterial infection might need antibiotic treatment.
Can I Do Anything To Help Myself?
There is a great deal that you can do to prevent further attacks of athlete's foot: Wear cotton socks rather than nylon ones.
Wear leather shoes or shoes made of breathable material.
Avoid wearing shoes made from vinyl or similar materials - training shoes are notorious for making feet sweat and promoting fungal infections.
Many people find using medicated talcum powder twice a day helps to keep their feet dry.
Changing your socks at least once a day is also beneficial.
1. How long have you had your symptoms?
2. Do your feet bleed?
3. Do they smell worse than usual?
4. Have you tried any treatment yourself?
5. What type of footwear do you tend to use?
Ask Your Doctor
1. Can I pass this on to my family/partner?
2. Will ordinary talcum powder be of any use?
3. Should I remove any flaking skin?
4. When should I expect to see an improvement in my symptoms?
5. Will exercise make it worse?