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Athlete’s Foot

A fungal infection of the foot that produces cracked, sore, itchy skin between the toes

  • Most common in teenagers and young adults; rare in children
  • Wearing enclosed footwear for long periods is a risk factor
  • Gender and genetics are not significant factors

Athlete’s foot, also called tinea pedis, is a common fungal infection of the feet that particularly affects the skin between the toes. The condition can be caused by several types of fungi that thrive in warm, humid conditions.

Athlete’s foot often affects teenagers and young adults, who tend to sweat more and wear enclosed footwear, such as trainers, for long periods. It is rare in children. Athlete’s foot can be picked up by walking barefoot in communal areas that are warm and humid, such as changing rooms and poolsides.

What are the symptoms?

Athlete’s foot most commonly occurs between the fourth and fifth toes and produces the following symptoms:

  • Cracked, sore, and itchy areas of skin.

  • Flaking, white, soggy skin.

Sometimes, the infection spreads on to the sole or the sides of the foot or affects the toenails, which then become yellowish, thickened, and brittle. People who have athlete’s foot are more susceptible to ringworm of the groin, another fungal infection.

Athlete’s foot

Toes affected by the fungal skin infection athlete’s foot may become white and soggy, and the skin between and under them may peel away to leave painful raw areas.

What is the treatment?

The affected area can be treated using an over-the-counter antifungal preparation, which should be applied at least twice a day (see Preparations for skin infections and infestations). It is important that you continue to apply the preparation to affected areas for a few days after the symptoms have cleared up to make sure that the infection is eradicated. If over-the-counter preparations do not help or you are unsure of the diagnosis, consult your doctor, who can give you further advice about treatment or prescribe a stronger antifungal drug.

To prevent the infection from recurring, you should wash your feet at least once a day, more frequently if they become sweaty, and dry them thoroughly between the toes. At home, it may help to wear open-toed shoes or go barefoot

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

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