A common fungal infection, athlete’s foot is when the skin between your toes becomes red, itchy and dry.
The medical name for the condition is tinea pedis, and symptoms can include scaly, flaky and itchy skin on the feet and inbetween the toes. If the infection has spread, the bottoms and sides of the feet can present similar symptoms, with cracks in the skin appearing if a case is severe enough.
Athlete’s foot usually occurs when the harmless bacteria living on the skin of the feet start to multiply - most often during warm, moist conditions - which leads to an infection.
The group of fungi behind athlete’s foot are called dermatophytes. As they thrive in warm, dark and humid environments, the feet provide the perfect place for them to multiply. This also explains why athlete’s foot is most commonly spread in swimming pools, changing rooms and showers, as these places - much like your feet - are often warm and moist too.
The infection can be spread through either direct (skin-to-skin) contact or indirect (infection passed on through contaminated objects) contact. Following good foot hygiene can help to prevent athlete’s foot and reduce your risk of contracting the infection from somebody else.
To prevent athlete’s foot, try following these simple guidelines:
Wash your feet daily, paying particular attention to the space in between your toes.
Avoid wearing tight-fitting footwear.
Avoid wearing socks or tights when your feet are moist.
Protect your feet with flip flops in warm communal areas such as swimming pools.
Avoid borrowing shoes or socks from other people to lower the risk of the infection spreading.
In mild cases, athlete’s foot may be treated at home by practicing good foot hygiene. If you are able to control the infection in this way, you should make sure to wash your feet regularly with soap and water and dry them well each time. Cotton socks can also help and changing your shoes on a frequent basis can prevent feet from becoming too moist.
If your infection is more severe, you may be prescribed antifungal medication by your GP. This works by killing the fungi which cause athlete’s foot and can come in variety of different forms including creams, sprays, powders, tablets and liquids.
If athlete’s foot is left untreated the infection can spread to other areas of the foot and nails, causing a fungal nail infection.