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The Best Ways to Prevent and Treat Athlete’s Foot

Our poor feet. They carry our weight, they keep us upright, they give clues about our overall health. But they’re often neglected. (If only they weren’t so hard to reach!)

This also means bacterial and fungal infections are pretty common down there. Tinea pedis — more commonly known as athlete’s foot — is something most people experience at one point or another. The common infection may go away quickly, but other times it may not, so it’s helpful to get an expert’s medical advice.

We spoke to Phillip Richardson, DPM, a podiatry specialist at Banner Health Center plus, about the best ways to prevent and treat athlete’s foot.

Common symptoms

Dr. Richardson pointed out that feet are the ideal breeding ground for fungus, since fungus thrives in environments that are dark, warm and moist. That’s why wearing shoes often makes athlete’s foot worse. If you live somewhere warm, your risk also increases. Tinea pedis is called athlete’s foot because it’s commonly caught in public showers, locker rooms and swimming pools.

If you get athlete’s foot, then you may notice the following symptoms on your feet or the skin between your toes:

  • Itching, stinging or burning
  • Blisters
  • Cracking, peeling and dry skin
  • Raw skin
  • Discolored and weak toenails
  • Toenails that break away
  • Ulcers/sores with fluid

Other immune conditions, like diabetes, can up your risk for athlete’s foot since immune dysfunction usually means reduced circulation and consequent feet problems. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) also mentioned that athlete’s foot is more common in males than females.

“The biggest thing to keep in mind is that this type of infection is very common. It can occur in all age groups, and is not just limited to athletes,” Dr. Richardson said. “If the environment is optimal and if the patient is susceptible, the infection can occur.”

Best treatment options

“Medical treatment for athlete’s foot has not changed much over the last 10 years,” Dr. Richardson noted. If you have an infection, he recommended using antifungal powders and sprays inside your shoes. In the case of a more advanced infection, he prefers a two-pronged approach of oral medication and topicals/sprays/powders.

In addition to treating infected skin  with the recommended medication, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) also recommends do the following to help control a case of athlete’s foot:

  • Wash your feet and keep them clean, dry and cool.
  • Avoid using swimming pools, public showers or foot baths.
  • Wear sandals when possible, or air shoes out by alternating them every 2-3 days.
  • Avoid wearing closed shoes, and wearing socks made from fabric that doesn’t dry easily (for example, nylon).

In addition, the NIH recommended drying your toes thoroughly after bathing, and applying antiseptic powder containing tolnaftate or clotrimazole to your feet afterward, especially between your toes. Most healthy people will notice full recovery in 7-14 days.

In some severe cases, removing a person’s toenail may help stop the infection. Dr. Richardson said this might be needed if the toenail has become excessively thick and painful, or if the nail has started growing in a way that makes it difficult or painful to wear close-toed shoes. Removing your toenail isn’t something you should tackle on your own — make sure you get a doctor’s help.

How to prevent athlete’s foot

Want to keep athlete’s foot from showing up in the first place? The CDC recommends the following hygiene practices:

  • Keep your nails clean and clipped short –– nails can house and spread infection.
  • Avoid walking barefoot in locker rooms or public showers (wear sandals or flip flops).

Dr. Richardson also suggested wearing socks and shoes that are designed to keep feet dry (i.e. with moisture-wicking materials) to help keep infections at bay.

When to see a doctor

If you’ve tried treating your athlete’s foot on your own and it hasn’t gone away, you’ll want to consult a doctor about your treatment options. They can provide an accurate diagnosis and medical advice, as well as a prescription for oral medication if needed. To find a doctor in your area, visit bannerhealth.com.

You may also want to check out these related articles, written with help from Banner Health experts:

Dermatology Infectious Disease Orthopedics Wound Care

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