If you are a guy and you grew up in the public school system than there has definitely been a point in your life when you have used a public shower, and the likelihood is that you have done this bare-footed no less. Some guys have used public showers more often than others. If you grew up playing hockey, or if you go the gym often, or if you played on a varsity sports team at University than chances are that you have exposed your feet to some heinous conditions in your attempt to shower and “clean” yourself after your work out. As a result of these experiences some of you have developed what we know as athlete’s foot. And if you have never had it than the odds are that you have known someone who did or you have at least heard of this term before. Almost everyone has heard of athlete’s foot before but what is it really?
These sub-headed paragraphs that follow should provide you with some good insight into discovering exactly what athlete’s foot is, what causes it, and how to treat it. And it should help to debunk some of it’s myths as well.
Symptoms of Athlete’s Foot
“My feet are burning and they are so itchy!” These are the two main symptoms of what is known as athlete’s foot. If you also notice that the skin on your toes/feet is peeling or it has even gotten to the point of cracking resulting in pain and bleeding than there is a good chance you are suffering from this affliction. The fungus that causes athlete’s foot is what inflicts this skin damage on your feet. And often when this skin destruction occurs the foot is also attacked by bacteria, which enters into the damaged skin causing inflammation of the toes/feet; these bacteria in your feet can result in an awful odour. Blisters are also another symptom of this fungal infection. As these blisters break open they expose a raw skin patch, which can result in more pain and swelling. Also as this infection spreads the itching and burning can increase. If athlete’s foot remains untreated it can even spread to the soles of the feet and/or toenails. Athlete’s foot can also be spread to other parts of the body such as the groin or under the arms when a person scratches their infected area and then touches their body elsewhere or through contaminated bed sheets/clothing.
Athlete’s foot is the result of a fungus (the fairly common “ringworm fungus” aka “tinea” in the medical world, where athlete’s foot = “tinea pedis”) that invades your skin in the form of a skin infection. This fungus that causes athlete’s foot is also called Trichophyton. Areas of the body which can remain warm, moist, and irritated, such as the “feet” allow this fungus a chance to thrive and successfully infect the upper layer of the skin. This “ringworm fungus” can be found commonly on floors and in socks and clothing. Through contact with these items the fungus can be passed on from person to person. However, without the proper conditions for growth (a moist, warm environment) the fungus cannot infect the skin. The term “ringworm” is commonly passed around by wrestlers as their training conditions and sweaty contact with each other often see this fungus passed around a team. At some point in their lives around 70% of the population will experience this little nuisance called athletes foot. That goes for both men and women. However, it is less often found in women and in children under the age of twelve. Also, because the fungi associated with athlete’s foot grows well in warm, moist areas it is no wonder why this condition is associated with swimming pools, shower areas, and locker rooms; areas where the fungus tends to flourish.
It is important to note that not all foot rashes are athlete’s foot and you should have your physician diagnose you before trying to attempt any remedies. The use of non-prescription products on a rash that is not athlete’s foot could result in making the rash much worse.
Causes Athlete’s Foot
As pointed out above athlete’s foot is the result of a fungal infection on your feet, one that especially attacks the skin between the toes. This fungi lives exclusively on dead body tissue such as the outer layer of skin and your hair and nails. This problem is actually rare in those who customarily go barefoot and in children.
Almost all people carry some form of fungus on their skin or another. Some of these are even good for you. When it comes to the “ringworm” fungus resulting in athlete’s foot it will only flourish to the point of causing this condition when it finds itself in the optimum growth conditions that were described above; a damp, warm, irritated skin environment.
Causes of these optimum conditions include sweaty feet, tight shoes, (not allowing your feet to breath), synthetic socks (do not absorb moisture well), a warm climate, and the failure to dry your feet well after you have been swimming or bathing. All of these contribute to the flourishing of the fungus and the resultant athlete’s foot condition.
It is the common perception that athlete’s foot is highly contagious. Especially in areas such as locker rooms, public showers, and pools where the growing conditions are perfect. However, the extensive research performed on athlete’s foot has foot has discovered that it is very difficult to pick up this infection by simply walking barefoot over a contaminated moist floor. Why some people develop the conditions while others are not affected is a piece of the athlete’s foot puzzle that is not well understood.
Treatment / Prevention:
Treatment can be separated into two parts. Part 1 is the most important.
Part 1) This involves making the infected area less suitable for the “ringworm” fungus to grow. This can be accomplished by keeping the feet clean and dry. Also by purchasing leather shoes or shoes made from other breathable material and avoiding ones that do not allow good airflow to the feet. Proper airflow prevents your feet from remaining moist. To accomplish this task you can also buy water absorbent socks that draw moisture away from your feet. There are also many powders out there that can help to keep your feet dry.
Part 2) Use anti-fungal creams on your infected feet. There are many medications available as well that you can ask your doctor or pharmacist about. Treatment with these usually takes around four weeks.
There are also alternative forms of treatment available including certain foot baths such as one containing cinnamon which has been shown to slow the growth of certain funguses. Tea tree oil and garlic are some other well known foot treatment options.
If you notice that your athlete’s foot is resulting in redness, increased swelling, bleeding, and/or your infection is not clearing up than it is time to contact your healthcare professional for assistance. If there is a bacterial infection as a result of the broken skin caused by this infliction than the use of an antibiotic may also be essential.
By following a healthy diet, avoiding high sugar content foods, and by following some good personal hygiene such as washing your feet daily, drying between the toes well, and by trying to keep your feet dry you should be able to prevent the outbreak of athlete’s foot.