Aug 8, 2016
By Barret Procyshyn
Most people don't like to talk about their feet. We depend on them all day to work, play, walk, exercise, commute and travel. In fact, if you google how far we walk in a lifetime, the average is estimated at almost 180 000 km. That's a lot of mileage. However, most of us put on our socks, shoes or work boots in the morning and forget about our feet. Well let's move out of the comfort zone and discuss Athlete's Foot.
Athlete's foot or tinea pedis is a fungal infection of the skin, on the feet. And if you think not being an athlete can save you from this fungus, think again, as anyone can get it. In fact, 70% of Canadians will have athlete's foot at some point in their lives. Athlete's foot presents on the feet with itchy and red soles. The skin between the smaller toes may be scaly or peel off easily. It is also quite likely your feet are going to stink a little more than usual! Athlete's foot may be confused with or develop into other kinds of skin infections, so it is important to monitor the situation. While fairly uncommon in children, it occurs most in teenage and adult males.
A fungus is a live organism which invades and grows in dead keratin, a protein that makes up your skin, hair and nails. This makes your feet a perfect habitat. Fungal infections are transmitted either directly via contact with an infected person or indirectly through contact with contaminated surfaces. Great examples of this include swimming pool decks, gym change rooms and anywhere else people are mingling in bare feet. This makes it easier to get during the summer months. The infection can be spread to other parts of the body, usually the groin or underarms by the host person.
A fungus loves to grow in moist, warm and dark conditions so wet and sweaty feet will contribute to the presence of athlete's foot. Wearing shoes, without socks can create such environments. Other risk factors for athlete's foot include diabetes, immunosuppression, peripheral vascular disease, poor hygiene and obesity and trauma. If left untreated a simple fungal infection can progress to ulceration if the infection extends deeper into the skin. Complications may arise if bacterial infections, such as cellulitis, take advantage of the broken down skin. Tinea pedis becomes much more complicated when the fungus spreads to the nail, so ensure you do not let it progress to this.
The good news is most athlete's foot is uncomplicated and very treatable with the help of your pharmacist. Non-prescription topical agents are quite inexpensive, yet effective in providing symptom relief and curing infection. These medications are usually applied twice daily to the affected areas. It is important to apply the product about one inch beyond the border of red and peeling skin.
Various anti-fungal medications are now available over the counter, in creams, dry powders and even sprays. Examples of anti fungals include tolnaftate, miconazole and clotrimazole. It can be a little confusing to select the right one, so talk to your pharmacist first.
No matter the medication formulation, it should always be applied to clean, dry feet. Unfortunately athlete's foot does not clear up overnight, taking for up to four weeks. Treatment should always continue 1-2 weeks after the redness and peeling skin have subsided. If there is not improvement after 2 weeks of treatment or incomplete resolution after 6 weeks of treatment, you should visit a physician. Occasionally stronger prescription antifungals may be needed. It is important to remember to take these medications regularly and to note they will not work for treating infected nails. They should also not be used to treat nail infections and should not be used in children <2 years old, unless directed by a physician.
Along with treating the infection with medication you can help the process by changing into clean, dry socks throughout the day. Your shoes might even need to be swapped as well. Thorough cleaning in the shower will help and you may need to make sure your feet are aired out a little more than usual. Shoes and no socks will also have to be avoided. Again, don't be embarrassed or worried to talk to your pharmacist first! As always we are here to help you and your family. Feet Included!