Athlete's foot is a common condition caused by a fungal infection. The medical name for it is 'tinea pedis', which is Latin for 'worm of the foot'. The fungus thrives in warm, damp conditions and can be picked up from swimming pools, wet floors, baths, towels and footwear.The fungi which cause athlete's foot are known as dermatophytes. This group of fungi can cause other skin infections. Each infection has a different name depending on the part of the body it affects, for example 'tinea barbae' affects the area around the beard and 'tinea capitis' affects the scalp.Athlete's foot causes sore, itchy and broken skin between the toes. These flakes become white and peel off. When the flakes peel, the skin underneath is red and sore. The skin can become very inflamed and can become infected with bacteria. These symptoms can spread to other parts of the feet. The feet can also become very smelly.Athlete's foot can affect people of all ages. It is more common in men than women. It can be passed on from one person to another.

Avoiding Athlete's Foot

  • Personal hygiene is very important. Wash your feet at least every day, more often if they get very sweaty
  • Always dry your feet thoroughly, especially between the toes
  • Put a clean pair of socks on each time you wash your feet
  • Man-made fibres create a warm, moist environment in which fungus thrives. Choose socks which are made from natural fibres such as cotton or wool and buy leather shoes rather than plastic ones
  • Do not wear trainers without socks
  • Wear sandals or flip-flops when walking on damp floors. This is especially important in communal changing rooms and showers
  • In the hot weather wear sandals. They are good for the feet because they expose the feet to the air and allow them to 'breathe'
  • Do not share your footwear and towels with anyone else
  • Do not wear tight or ill-fitting shoes
  • Do not scratch. Scratching can spread the infection and make it worse

Treatment

Athlete's foot can be easily treated with anti-fungal treatments which can be bought over-the-counter all good pharmacies. Anti-fungals are usually available in cream and powder form.Effective treatments available include clotrimazole and miconazole. Miconazole is also effective against bacteria, which can sometimes cause a secondary infection. Treatment will only be effective if you follow the instructions carefully. Try not to miss an application and to continue treatment for at least two weeks after the condition clears. These preparations are more pleasant to use than some of the older preparations.Benzoic acid is a much older and less effective treatment often supplied as an ointment known as Whitfield's Ointment (benzoic acid compound ointment). This is said to be particularly effective in hot countries.Crystal violet (gentian violet) used to be popular with some people because it has an intense colour which enables you to see where you have applied it. It not recommended today because of the risk of causing cancer and because it kills the cells of the skin. It is very important that hydrocortisone is not used to treat athlete's foot. Hydrocortisone can be bought for allergic skin conditions but if it is used for athlete's foot or other fungal infections it can make them much worse.

When To See A Doctor

Go and see your doctor if:

  • your infection is severe and has spread to other parts of your foot (such as the sole of your foot)if your toenails change colour, as this could be the sign of a nail infectionif you have tried athlete's foot treatments and they have failed; or
  • if you are diabetic

If your infection does not clear up, your doctor can prescribe medicines to be taken by mouth.