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What is Athlete's Foot?

Athlete's foot is a fungal infection affecting the feet which is otherwise known as "tinea pedis". The main causes are occlusive footwear--or wearing footwear without absorbent socks--combined with sweating. This provides the perfect growth environment for the responsible fungus. This is an extremely common condition, not just among athletes: estimates are that 7 out of 10 adults will have athlete's foot at some point. Interestingly, it rarely occurs before puberty, but becomes more common with increasing age.

The most common symptoms are itchiness, pain, and redness between the toes. Athlete's foot may also cause scaly soles, painful fissures between the toes, and less frequently may cause vesicular or ulcerative lesions. These fissures or lesions become risk areas for secondary infection. Certain activities, such as swimming and communal bathing, may also increase the risk of infection.

The good news is that athlete's foot is usually easily treated with over-the-counter antifungal medications such as clotrimazole (Lotrimin TM) or tolnaftate (Tinactin). The bad news is that people often treat themselves incorrectly with over-the-counter, topical steroid creams such as hydrocortisone. Anti-fungal medications should be used sparingly but regularly, as directed. An application the size of a chocolate chip should be adequate to cover the entire bottom of your foot. Other tips in managing athlete's foot: keep your feet clean and dry. Wear clean absorbent socks made of natural fibers, such as cotton, and change them during the day if your feet become moist or sweaty. Dusting the inside of your shoes and socks with talcum powder or a medicated powder such as Desenex may help to decrease the moisture level. Alternately wearing different pairs of shoes to allow them to dry out for a day or two at a time may help. If using topical antifungal medications and following those tips doesn't help clear up your infection with 7 days, ask your doctor about prescribing an oral antifungal medication.

Created: 12/6/2004  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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