The idea of a fungal infection that’s contagious isn’t appealing at all. But it is estimated that about 3–15% of the population have athlete’s foot.1 Typical symptoms of this fungal infection which affects your feet include flaking and cracked, itchy, and reddened skin. You may also get blisters and have pain. If the infection spreads to your toenails, they can become thickened or discolored and even start to crumble.
Causes Of Athlete’s Foot
Athlete’s foot is an infection by fungi that feed mostly on keratin, a protein that’s found in the outer layer of your skin as well as in your nails and hair. These fungi thrive in moist, warm places like socks, shoes, swimming pools, the floors of communal showers, and locker rooms. Our feet make a perfect home for them since they’re encased in shoes most of the time, creating a warm, moist environment. Also, they tend to be rich in keratin.
Many kinds of fungi can cause athlete’s foot but three species, namely, Trichophyton rubrum, Epidermophyton floccosum,
How Does Athlete’s Foot Spread?
The fungi that cause athlete’s foot can enter your skin through small breaks and grow. They can be transmitted either when you come in direct contact with them or by indirect contact – for instance, if your bare feet touch infected flakes of skin present on the floor of a shower room.
Factors That Raise Your Risk Of Infection
Certain factors can up your chances of catching athlete’s foot.
Genetic factors may play a part in making some people prone to athlete’s foot. If it’s common in the family, you may be prone too.
Dermatitis is a condition in which your skin gets irritated and you develop a rash. If you have dermatitis on your feet, you are more likely to catch a fungal infection.
Some people sweat excessively because they have hyperactive sweat glands – a condition known as hyperhidrosis. Sweaty feet means you have a higher risk for athlete’s foot. The causes of hyperhidrosis are unidentifiable in many cases. However, we do know that conditions like heart disease, cancer, menopause, anxiety, and hyperthyroidism can cause excessive sweating.34
Serious illnesses like HIV and certain medications can weaken your immune system. And a compromised immune system can leave you vulnerable to fungal infections.
If you’re having problems with the blood circulation in your legs, say because of diabetes or peripheral artery disease, you’re more likely to get athlete’s foot.
Certain sports activities increase your chances of coming in contact with fungi that cause athlete’s foot. For example, swimming and running bring you in contact with an environment conducive to fungal growth.
The Kind Of
Shoes You Wear
People who wear shoes without ventilation for long periods are more likely to get athlete’s foot. An example would be someone who has to wear rubber boots or safety boots at work.5
What Can You Do About Athlete’s Foot?
Antifungal creams and powders are available over the counter. You can also check out natural remedies like garlic and diluted tea tree oil which can be applied to the affected area to treat fungal infections. However, do check in with your doctor if your symptoms do not settle down in 2–4 weeks. It’s also a good idea to get medical attention if you have diabetes or a weak immune system. Look out for signs such as red streaks, pus, inflammation, and fever which could indicate a bacterial infection as well.6
|↑1, ↑5||Athlete’s foot: Overview. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑2||Al Hasan, Muhannad, S. Matthew Fitzgerald, Mahnaz Saoudian, and Guha Krishnaswamy. “Dermatology for the practicing allergist: Tinea pedis and its complications.” Clinical and Molecular Allergy 2, no. 1 (2004): 5.|
|↑3||Walling, Hobart W. “Primary hyperhidrosis increases the risk of cutaneous infection: a case-control study of 387 patients.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 61, no. 2 (2009): 242-246.|
|↑4||Hyperhidrosis. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑6||Athlete’s foot. National Institutes of Health.|