What is Athlete’s Foot?
Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection that is most commonly associated with athletes and military personnel. It is also known as ‘ringworm of the foot’, as this is exactly what it is—a fungal infection that is known primarily for its afflicting of the foot. Athlete’s foot was originally documented by British soldiers in Shanghai. Because of Britain’s ordinarily cold, clammy climate, the fungal agents present almost everywhere weren’t able to flourish and get a foothold. It wasn’t until they had to survive with poorly-ventilated, watertight leather boots that the fungi were able to really breed and become a relevant condition, so it was thought to be a local epidemic. Now, we know better, and are fully aware that athlete’s foot is nothing more than a fungal infection localized to the foot, generally due to poorly-ventilated footwear and long periods wearing them that give the fungus a time to breed and flourish.
Athlete’s foot is known for being extremely itchy, and over-the-counter treatments for it are very common.
Who gets Athlete’s Foot?
Athlete’s foot is most commonly associated with athletes, obviously. However, this is something of a misnomer. One does not need to be an athlete or even very active to contract athlete’s foot. All individuals are equally likely to develop athlete’s foot. There are no ethnic, sexual or hormonal boundaries, nor any genetic predisposition that can relevantly increase the risk of athlete’s foot: because it is a fungal infection, it quite simply does not discriminate.
There are a number of common misconceptions about athlete’s foot and who should suffer from it; far too many to address in kind. However, in short, athlete’s foot is risked by anyone who finds their feet poorly ventilated for long periods of time, especially in warm conditions.
What causes Athlete’s Foot?
Athlete’s foot is caused by the growth of fungus on the skin. It is frequently mistaken for a malfunction of the skin itself, because this is somewhat what it resembles, but it is in truth the growth of fungus on the surface of the skin. There is no single ’cause’ of athlete’s foot other than contamination by the fungal agent. That said, there are a number of individual factors which can very, very easily increase the odds of a case of athlete’s foot developing. Simple exposure to the fungus is unlikely to cause an outbreak, but it is easily exacerbated by other factors.
First of all, the vector of transmission is almost always direct contact. Contact may occur through direct physical contact with another affected individual, but is more likely to occur from indirect contact through a shared surface or item. Locker rooms and communal showers are the most frequent offenders; this is one reason why athlete’s foot is associated with athletes and military individuals. This is also why athlete’s foot has a tendency to come in outbreaks: multiple individuals in similar conditions can be exposed at a time, causing them all to develop a case from the same origin.
Heat and dampness are strong offenders for exacerbating the fungal infection after it has occurred. However, it is important for darkness to play a role, as well; if it weren’t for this, the fungi would be likely to spread much more quickly and much more prominently, making them a far more obvious concern to all at risk. However, fungi prefer darker areas. An individual exposed to the fungus who then puts on boots or shoes without proper ventilation opens a breeding ground for the fungus, allowing it to progress to a full-blown case of athlete’s foot.
Hygeine plays a prominent role in this, however. Exposure to the fungus is not enough to guarantee infection, even if ideal conditions are presented to the fungus shortly thereafter. Rather, an individual exposed to the fungus that does not take the time to properly clean the exposed surface of the skin will allow the fungus to remain and spread. Proper cleaning can prevent the fungus from spreading in the first place and save an individual quite a lot of pain and strife. Keeping feet and footwear dry, additionally, through the use of wicking socks, can also help to prevent outbreaks; the converse of this, wearing inappropriate footwear for warm and wet conditions, exacerbates athlete’s foot horribly.
What does Athlete’s Foot cause?
Athlete’s foot causes moderate to severe itching. The skin is very likely to flake and scale, which is exacerbated by the wetness frequently associated with athlete’s foot. This, in turn, is likely to lead to the cracking and blistering of the skin. This can become quite painful and make wearing shoes and socks very difficult, if not impossible. Bleeding is likely to occur if any of these symptoms should grow very severe.
Because of this damage to the skin, a bacterial infection may occur as a secondary symptom. This bacterial infection is perhaps the greatest risk behind athlete’s foot, as while the fungus causes only superficial, uncomfortable damage, any bacterial infection can progress to something much more severe if left unchecked.
The fungal infection may spread to other areas of the skin if left unchecked, usually through mutual contact. If an individual should scratch at an infected, itching foot, they may expose other vulnerable areas of the body to infection. The groin is at the highest risk for this, as the conditions there are the most likely to be dark, warm and wet, much like an inadequately ventilated foot. This can expose other areas to the same flaking and cracking and blistering of the skin, as well as resulting in bleeding and opening those areas up to similar bacterial infections as a secondary effect. This is obviously something to avoid, so individuals suffering from athlete’s foot are encouraged not under any circumstances to scratch.
It is not uncommon for individuals to suffer from a reaction to anti-fungal treatments that can result in the formation of vesicles and pustules on the extremities and digits. This is considered normal and of low import, and is known as an ‘id reaction’. Id reactions almost universally evaporate following the destruction and cleansing of the fungal infection.
How serious is Athlete’s Foot?
Athlete’s foot is not something to be ignored, but it does not pose a great health risk. Athlete’s foot is not something that has a mortality rate, but it can contribute to severe complications, or open the body up to severe complications, just as skinning one’s knee can leave the limb open to a more severe bacterial infection. Athlete’s foot warrants treatment and care, but is not a health emergency.
Athlete’s foot gains a certain shade of concern due to its catching nature; athlete’s foot is very contagious for individuals that tend to share common spaces the fungus is likely to survive. These areas most commonly include locker rooms (which have a tendency to be poorly ventilated, damp and hot), and shared showers (which are similarly almost perpetually wet, with high, shared foot traffic). Individuals suffering from athlete’s foot should take care to avoid spreading it to those around them as best they can, and abstain from using public facilities if at all possible. Because so many individuals may not even be aware they are spreading athlete’s foot, however, it is best to always assume one is at risk in a shared environment and take the appropriate hygienic steps to prevent any sort of fungal infection. These rules apply doubly so, as athlete’s foot is not the only thing that can be spread in this manner, and failing to account for proper hygiene in these circumstances can lead to health complications far in excess of a fungal infection.
The secondary bacterial infection is the greatest risk of athlete’s foot. A secondary bacterial infection may warrant antibiotic treatment and, while there are many possible options on the market for the treatment of minor cases of athlete’s foot, a bacterial infection associated with athlete’s foot more than warrants examination by a trained medical professional.
What does Athlete’s Foot treatment look like?
Treatment for athlete’s foot is, first and foremost, preventative. The most thorough individuals should assume that a shared shower or locker room surface is infectious and act appropriately, disinfecting it and their own skin and keeping things well-scrubbed. Proper hygenic scrubbing while bathing is enough to account for this, although not enough to account for disinfection. Simply put, don’t neglect to scrub anywhere. Individuals should always endeavor to keep their skin dry and clean, especially if that skin has to be wrapped up and cut off from the air. Most of the body is not at risk in this way; damp arms will simply dry in the air, but damp feet put into shoes will remain damp almost indefinitely, and grow quite warm, allowing all manner of bacteria and, in this case, fungus, to breed. Dermisil for Athletes Foot is a natural, herbal solution for this condition.
Preventative measures are frequently more than sufficient to prevent a case of athlete’s foot, but there are cases where these measures were not taken in advance or were ineffective. In these circumstances, treatment most frequently involves a topical antifungal agent delivered in the form of a cream. There are a number of antifungal creams that all contain roughly the same active ingredients. More severe cases of athlete’s foot may warrant an oral antifungal agent be prescribed.
Good hygiene following infection is effective in a little over a third of cases at eliminating the fungal infection even without a proper antifungal intervention agent being applied. Individuals should take care to properly scrub infected areas (if this will not exacerbate any flaking or blistering that may be present; tearing open wounds is more likely to make things far worse).
Various powder-based agents may be effective at killing the infection as well, and can also help to keep feet dry. Talcum powder is the most common agent for this. It absorbs moisture, which the infection requires to survive. Talcum powder can hasten its retreat by a fair amount.
Symptomatic treatments are available as well. Anti-inflammatories may help with swelling or pain, and tea tree oil is effective at treating the itching symptoms. However, neither of these actually treat the infection and are in absolutely no way a substitute for an infection treatment.
Symptomatic treatments excluded, athlete’s foot can be a very, very persistent condition. Not accounting for possible spread and complications, a single case can be expected to persist around 45 days before abating. This is discounting entirely the possibility that it will spread, in which case each affected area (if a general treatment has not been applied in the form of an oral antifungal) will reset the timer to a complete ousting of the fungus. Some cases may be more resilient than this as well, and bacterial infections secondary to athlete’s foot may persist even longer still.
How do I know if I have Athlete’s Foot?
Athlete’s foot can be identified visually very easily. The affected skin will appear dry and flaky and scaled over, but will almost certainly not look natural in its scaling; athlete’s foot can be fairly easily distinguished from a callous. A visual inspection of the skin is almost always more than sufficient to identify athlete’s foot, and most individuals aware of the symptoms can identify it without much further help. Itching feet that have been through the appropriate uncomfortable conditions can almost be assumed to be suffering from or at risk for athlete’s foot.
Medical professionals do have recourse if this should fail. Microscopic analysis of the skin can directly confirm or deny the spread of fungal agents across the skin. However, if even this should fail, there are other more advanced options, including a basic biopsy of the affected area, but this is reserved for only the most persistent cases that have been resistant to treatment and require a positive diagnosis.
It should be noted that some diagnostic tools used for identifying fungus via ultraviolet light are not effective with athlete’s foot, as the underlying fungal infection does not fluoresce. However, this may be used to rule out athlete’s foot or identify similar conditions.
As with any serious condition, however, self-diagnosis is insufficient in the face of severe symptoms. A persistent case of athlete’s foot that causes significant difficulty for the affected individual should be brought to a medical professional as soon as possible to prevent further difficulty and to hasten treatment.