Athlete′s foot is a fungal infection on feet that causes scaling, flaking, and itching of the affected skin. Blisters and cracked skin may also occur, leading to exposed raw tissue, pain, swelling, and inflammation. Secondary bacterial infection can accompany the fungal infection, sometimes requiring a course of oral antibiotics.
The infection can be spread to other areas of the body, such as the groin, and usually is called by a different name once it spreads, such as tinea corporis on the body or limbs and tinea cruris (jock itch or dhobi itch) for an infection of the groin. Tinea pedis most often manifests between the toes, with the space between the fourth and fifth digits most commonly afflicted.
Athlete′s foot can usually be diagnosed by visual inspection of the skin, but where the diagnosis is in doubt direct microscopy of a potassium hydroxide preparation (known as a KOH test) may help rule out other possible causes, such as eczema or psoriasis. A KOH preparation is performed on skin scrapings from the affected area. The KOH preparation has an excellent positive predictive value, but occasionally false negative results may be obtained, especially if treatment with an anti-fungal medication has already begun.
If the above diagnoses are inconclusive or if a treatment regimen has already been started, a biopsy of the affected skin (i.e. a sample of the living skin tissue) can be taken for histological examination.
A Wood′s lamp, although useful in diagnosing fungal infections of the hair (Tinea capitis), is not usually helpful in diagnosing tinea pedis since the common dermatophytes that cause this disease do not fluoresce under ultraviolet light. However, it can be useful for determining if the disease is due to a non-fungal afflictor.
Athlete′s foot is caused by a parasitic fungus and is a communicable disease. It is typically transmitted in moist environments where people walk barefoot, such as showers, bath houses, and locker rooms. It can also be transmitted by sharing footwear with an infected person, or less commonly, by sharing towels with an infected person.
The various parasitic fungi that cause athlete′s foot can also cause skin infections on other areas of the body, most often under toenails (Onychomycosis) or on the groin (tinea cruris).
The practices given in this section do not only help prevent spread of the fungus, they can also help greatly in managing and curing athlete′s foot in an individual by reducing or eliminating re-exposure to the fungus in one′s home environment.
The fungi that cause athlete′s foot can live on shower floors, wet towels, and footwear. Athlete′s foot is caused by a fungus and can spread from person to person from shared contact with showers, towels, etc. Hygiene therefore plays an important role in managing an athlete′s foot infection. Since fungi thrive in moist environments, it is very important to keep feet and footwear as dry as possible.
The fungi that cause athlete′s foot live on moist surfaces and can be transmitted from an infected person to members of the same household through secondary contact. By controlling the fungus growth in the household, transmission of the infection can be prevented.
There are many conventional medications (over-the-counter and prescription) as well as alternative treatments for fungal skin infections, including athlete′s foot. Important with any treatment plan is the practice of good hygiene. Several placebo controlled studies report that good foot hygiene alone can cure athlete′s foot even without medication in 30-40% of the cases. However, placebo-controlled trials of allylamines and azoles for athlete′s foot consistently produce much higher percentages of cure than placebo.
Conventional treatment typically involves daily or twice daily application of a topical medication in conjunction with hygiene measures outlined in the above section on prevention. Keeping feet dry and practicing good hygiene is crucial to preventing reinfection. Severe or prolonged fungal skin infections may require treatment with oral anti-fungal medication. Apply zinc oxide based diaper rash ointment. To prevent sweaty or wet feet that are breeding grounds for athlete′s foot, apply talcum powder (baby powder) to absorb moisture that kills off the infection.
The fungal infection is often treated with topical antifungal agents, which can take the form of a spray, powder, cream, or gel. These include ketaconazole, itraconazole, naftifine, nystatin, caspofungin. One study showed that allylamines (terbinafine, Amorolfine, naftifine, butenafine) cure slightly more infections than azoles (Miconazole, ketaconazole, clotrimazole, itraconazole, sertaconazole, etc.). Undecylenic acid (a castor oil derivative) is a known fungicide that can be used for fungal skin infections such as athlete′s foot. Whitfield′s Ointment (benzoic and salicylic acid) is an older treatment that still sees occasional use.
Some topical applications such as carbol fuchsin (also known in the U.S. as Castellani′s paint), often used for intertrigo, work well but in small selected areas. This red dye, used in this treatment like many other vital stains, is both fungicidal and bacteriocidal; however, because of the staining it is cosmetically undesirable. For many years gentian violet was also used for bacterial and fungal infections between fingers or toes.
The time line for cure may be long, often 45 days or longer. The recommended course of treatment is to continue to use the topical treatment for four weeks after the symptoms have subsided to ensure that the fungus has been completely eliminated. However, because the itching associated with the infection subsides quickly, patients may not complete the courses of therapy prescribed.
Anti-itch creams are not recommended as they will alleviate the symptoms but will exacerbate the fungus; this is due to the fact that anti-itch creams typically enhance the moisture content of the skin and encourage fungal growth. For the same reason, some drug manufacturers are using a gel instead of a cream for application of topical drugs (for example, naftin and Lamisil). Novartis, maker of Lamisil, claims that a gel penetrates the skin more quickly than cream.
If the fungal invader is not a dermatophyte but a yeast, other medications such as fluconazole may be used. Typically fluconazole is used for candidal vaginal infections moniliasis but has been shown to be of benefit for those with cutaneous yeast infections as well. The most common of these infections occur in the web spaces (intertriginous) of the toes and at the base of the fingernail or toenail. The hall mark of these infections is a cherry red color surrounding the lesion and a yellow thick pus.
Oral treatment with griseofulvin was begun early in the 1950s. Because of the tendency to cause liver problems and to provoke aplastic anemia the drugs were used cautiously and sparingly. Over time it was found that those problems were due to the size of the crystal in the manufacturing process and microsize and now ultramicrosize crystals are available with few of the original side effects.
For severe cases, the current preferred oral agent in the UK, is the more effective terbinafine. Other prescription oral antifungals include itraconazole and fluconazole.
Symptomatic relief from itching may be achieved after topical application of tea tree oil, probably due to its involvement in the histamine response; however, the efficacy of tea tree oil in the treatment of athlete′s foot (achieving mycological cure) is questionable.
A study of the effect of 3% (v/v) aqueous onion extract was shown to be very effective in laboratory conditions against Trichophyton mentagrophytes and T. rubrum.
Ajoene, a compound found in garlic, is sometimes used to treat athlete′s foot.
Direct application of rubbing alcohol and/or hydrogen peroxide after bathing can aid in killing the fungus at the surface level of the skin and will help prevent a secondary (bacterial) infection from occurring. In addition, soaking the feet in a bath of 70% rubbing alcohol will help dry the skin out, and likewise kill the invading fungus The alcohol is not, however, effective against spores. Vinegar in some cases has killed the fungus and is effective against spores.
Boric acid application in the socks is used to prevent athlete′s foot when recurrent infections occurs, but is not used to treat it.
Since fungi grow in moist conditions, it is very important to dry the feet well after bathing. A hair dryer can be used to aid the drying process, or to dry feet which have become slightly moist in between showers or baths.
Rubbing feet with a baking soda paste and/or sprinkling baking soda in shoes is thought to help by changing pH.
The use of household bleach as a direct topical application or soak for tinea pedis is not recommended, as it is a well documented irritant (clearly labelled in the United Kingdom as “Harmful” by COSHH) It is used diluted as an environmental decontaminatant to prevent the spread of dermatophytes between animals, and from animals to humans.
Some podiatrists recommend soaking the feet in a solution of Epsom salts in warm water.