Athlete’s Foot

What causes athlete’s foot?
Athlete’s foot is a common skin infection caused by fungus. It is spread by contact with a surface contaminated with the fungus. Common places this fungus exists are pools, showers, locker room floors, and exercise facilities. For those with a history of athlete’s foot, the fungus can remain in socks or shoes. It is estimated that 15-20% of the population suffers from an athlete’s foot infection, males more than females.

What is fungus?
Fungi are a group of organisms separate from plants, bacteria, animals, and plants. This group of microorganisms include yeasts, molds, and the more commonly know mushrooms. There are an estimated 1.5 million to 5 million species of fungi and only about 5% of these having been formally classified. They acquire their food by absorbing dissolved molecules, typically by secreting digestive enzymes into their environment. Several species of fungus can cause an athlete’s foot infection, but three species account for the vast majority of athlete’s foot cases.

What are the symptoms of an athlete’s foot infection?
Athlete’s foot often begins as an itching sensation on the skin. It then progresses to a scaly, cracked, or dry skin. The most common area on the foot for an athlete’s foot infection is between the toes and the soles of the feet. Small blisters and red skin can develop. Rarely do secondary bacterial infections result. Other conditions that mimic athlete’s foot infections include eczema, atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, and dyshydrosis.

How is athlete’s foot diagnosed?
A clinical examination by your doctor of skin will be sufficient to suspect an athlete’s foot infection. When their is uncertainty about the diagnosis, a scraping of the skin can be sent for laboratory testing. This testing will include a culture, microscopic study, or more recently the use of genetic testing for the fungi species.

How is athlete’s foot treated?
Some cases of athlete’s foot will clear up on their own, but formal treatment with medication works best. Topical medications are available over-the-counter at most drug stores and pharmacies. Of those available OTC, the best is Lamisil AT. Prescription topicals also work well and can be combined with additional medications to control the itching and inflammation typically present with an athlete’s foot infection. In some cases, an oral, anti-fungal medication is used to treat the fungus. Treatment of an athlete’s foot infection should also involve managing the moisture present with running. This is best accomplished with moisture-wicking socks, alternating shoes from day-to-day, and allowing your feet to air out after a run or other exercise.

What can be done to prevent athlete’s foot?
The most important factor in preventing athlete’s foot is to manage the moisture inside shoes and reduce contact with potentially infected surfaces. As mentioned above, alternating shoes day-to-day, the use of moisture wicking socks, and allowing the feet to air out after exercise can reduce the moisture needed by the fungi to survive. In addition, the use of shower shoes, flip flops, or other sandal type devices can reduce the chances of coming into contact with potentially infected surfaces.

This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any injury or disease. It is intended to serve as an overview of running-related injuries and should not be used as a substitute for sound medical advice from a doctor or therapist.