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Athlete’s foot (fungal infection) Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection that usually affects the skin between the toes . Redness appears in the creases, then the skin dries and peels.

In North America, 10 to 15% of adults will be affected by athlete’s foot at least once in their lifetime. Recurrences are common if not treated properly .

The name comes from the fact that athletes are frequently affected . The perspiration of the feetcreates an ideal environment for the proliferation of mushrooms: humid, hot and dark.

In addition, walking barefoot on a wet floor in a public place (for example, in the locker room of a sports center or at the edge of a swimming pool) also increases the risk of contracting the infection. However, it is not necessary to be athletic or to attend training rooms to catch it.


Cause of Athlete’s foot (fungal infection)

The parasitic fungi responsible for athlete’s foot and other fungal infections of the skin are of the dermatophyte family. They are microscopic in size and feed on the dead tissue of the skin, hair and nails.

Most of the time, one of the following 2 species is involved: Trichophyton rubrum or Trichophyton mentagrophytes .

Possible complications

  • Onychomycosis . Over time, if left untreated, the athlete’s foot can spread and reach the toenails. The infection is then more difficult to treat. Nails thicken and change color. See our fact sheet Onychomycosis ;
  • Bacterial cellulitis . This is the most feared complication because the most serious. Bacterial cellulitis is an infection of the deep layer of the skin by bacteria, usually of the genus Streptococcus or Staphylococcus. Athlete’s foot is one of its main causes. Indeed, athlete’s foot can cause ulceration(more or less deep lesion) of the skin, which allows the penetration of other microorganisms in the body. Bacterial cellulitis causes redness and swelling of the skin, which becomes sensitive. The infection can spread from the foot to the ankle and then to the leg. Fever and chills accompany him. Bacterial cellulitis can be very serious and you should consult a doctor as soon as possible if these symptoms occur.

The symptoms of athlete’s foot (fungal infection)

The Athlete’s foot may look different from one person to another, and be more or less extended.

  • The skin between the toes crackles and peels. The small white skins become more numerous as the infection progresses;
  • Redness appears in the infected area, as well as a burning sensation;
  • A nauseating odor sometimes emerges from the feet;
  • Sometimes small blisters (vesicles) filled with liquid appear;
  • The infection sometimes reaches the sole of the foot.

Attention . The majority of people do not notice that they have contracted athlete’s foot because there may be no discomfort to attract attention. On the other hand, if one examines the skin between the toes , the signs are obvious.


People at risk for Athlete’s foot (fungal infection)

  • Men ;
  • People who suffer from excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis);
  • People with diabetes
  • People with atopic eczema;
  • People with weakened immune systems who are struggling with infections: diabetics, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) carriers, people with chronic or serious illness, such as cancer.

Risk factors

  •  Wearing  shoes that are  too tight, or plastic or vinyl shoes that create a damp environment;
  • A  foot hygiene  inadequate;
  • The act of  walking barefoot  on wet floors often fitness centers, locker rooms, swimming pools or showers.

Prevention of athlete’s foot (fungal infection)

Measures to prevent athlete’s foot and reduce the risk of recurrence
Many people who contracted the infection a first time saw their symptoms reappear a few months later. One more reason to adopt the following hygiene measures.

  • Follow the prescribed treatment as long as it is recommended. Even if the symptoms have disappeared, the fungus may remain present and reappear at the first opportunity;
  • Good body hygiene is the best way to prevent athlete’s foot: keep your feet clean, cool and dry. Be sure to dry your feet and toes with a clean towel after washing and leaving the pool. Warning! sharing a towel that has been in contact with an infected foot can transmit the infection;
  • Wear beach sandals when wandering in a public place with wet floors (locker rooms, communal showers, public pools, etc.);
  • Choose cotton or wool socks , which absorb moisture well. If you sweat a lot, think about changing your socks during the day. The sweat glands of the 250,000 feet can produce up to 1 cup (250 ml) of sweat a day! You should also be aware that various treatments can help reduce excessive sweating, such as prescription antiperspirants. It is better to consult a doctor for proper treatment than to try over-the-counter products;
  • Choose shoes sports that provide good ventilation;
  • If necessary, sprinkle your feet or even the inside of your shoes with talcum powder or antifungal medicated powder (Gold Bond, Desenex in Canada, Mycoster, Fongamil, Amycor, Fonx … France) which absorbs moisture;
  • Avoid wearing the same shoes every day and, if possible, remove the soles to dry well during the night and sprinkle on antifungal powder;
  • If necessary, apply an antifungal cream twice a week on your feet and on your nails; this can help prevent fungi from multiplying again;
  • Get rid of your old shoes that made the road;
  • Sunbathing is good for the feet and helps to keep them dry;
  • Finally, watch your feet regularly; pay attention to changes in color or appearance of your skin.


Medical treatment of athlete’s foot (fungal infection)

self-treatment with topical antifungal can be done to fight infection. If no improvement is visible at the end of treatment or if the infection worsens, consult a doctor. If the symptoms seem pronounced, it is better to consult. In addition to medical treatment, it is important to apply the hygiene measures described in the Prevention section.


If the infection is not very serious, use a topical antifungal found over-the-counter in pharmacies as an ointment, lotion, powder or aerosol based on clotrimazole (Lotrimin), ketoconazole ( Nizoral) or tolnaftate (Desenex, Tinactin). In France, ciclopirox (Mycoster), or azoles (Fongamil, Amycor, Fonx, etc.) are generally used. Ask a pharmacist if necessary.

The duration of treatment varies from 2 to 4 weeks. It is essential to apply the treatment for the entire duration indicated, even if the symptoms have disappeared . These antifungals cause healing in 70% to 80% of cases.

In general, if there is a recurrence , it is necessary to resume the treatment and to double the duration. In addition, it is important to follow the hygiene measures described in the Prevention section. If foot hygiene is inadequate after treatment, there is a high probability that the infection will return. Sometimes the antifungals do not completely eliminate the infection. The fungi can then proliferate again, especially if the feet are often wet.

If the rigorous application of topical treatments and hygiene measures does not cure athlete’s foot, consult a doctor . It may offer another topical treatment or prescribe an oral antifungal , such as itraconazole (to be taken for 14 days), fluconazole (for 4 to 6 weeks) or terbinafine (for 14 days). Some oral antifungals can cause significant side effects (intestinal problems, allergic reaction, loss of taste (ageusia), hepatitis, etc.). It is necessary to inquire with your doctor.

If there is bacterial superinfection – as indicated by oozing ulcers between the toes, fever or swollen foot – the bacterial infection should be treated with local or oral antibiotics , while ‘attacking the fungal infection.

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