Warmer weather increases threat of athlete’s footWhen the weather gets warmer and outdoor activities increase, there is always an uninvited guest hanging around: athlete’s foot.
Athlete’s foot is a skin condition caused by a fungus, tinea pedis, that grows between the toes and on the soles of feet. The fungus takes root in the outermost layer of the skin.
Feet can easily become targets of fungus attack because shoes create a warm, dark and humid environment in which the feet sweat, encouraging fungus growth.
Some believe going barefoot may prevent athlete’s foot because contact with the air helps the feet stay cool and dry. However, the warm and damp areas around swimming pools, showers and locker rooms are rampant breeding grounds for fungi, so wearing shower shoes is recommended. Because athletes who use such facilities frequently are prone to these infections, the term “athlete’s foot” became common.
Dry skin, itching, scaling, inflammation and blisters are typical signs of athlete’s foot. Not all fungal conditions are athlete’s foot. Other conditions, such as disturbances of the sweating mechanism, allergic reactions, eczema and psoriasis, may seem to be athlete’s foot.
Those who have chronic athlete’s foot often find the symptoms disappear in winter and reappear in summer. This means that they suffer the disease year-round but it is dormant in winter.
Fungal infection of the feet occurs most frequently, followed by nail infections and, less often, fungal infection of the groin and hands.
“Even if there is no sign but for cracking skin in winter, there may be fungus living underneath the skin of the foot,” said Dr. Son Sang-wook of the Korea University Medical Center in Ansan.
Leaving blisters from athlete’s foot untreated can cause secondary infection and inflammation, causing a watery discharge from sore and swelling feet. Itching and burning may increase as the infection spreads.
According to Dr. Son, patients should not break blisters but instead massage affected areas with cold water to relieve symptoms. When blisters break, small raw areas of tissues are exposed, causing pain and swelling. Scratching can also cause secondary infection and fingers and fingernails may become infected.
When symptoms are not serious, athlete’s foot can be easily treated with antifungal creams. If symptoms are more serious and include watery discharges, patients may need to soak their feet in medicated water.
Oral or topical antifungal medication may be prescribed by a doctor for cases that do not respond to over-the-counter remedies.
Men are traditionally more prone to athlete’s foot than women, but that is not always the case, Dr. Son said.
The disease is closely related to lifestyle, he said. Men wear shoes more often while women frequently wear sandals without socks or stockings in summer.
Athlete’s foot is highly infectious and one person infected with the disease at home can spread the disease to other family members. In a study, half of athlete’s foot patients had at least one person in their family with the same disease.
Sharing slippers at home or in public places should be avoided.
Some medical creams available in drug stores called “wide-range skin disease medicines” claim to be good for both athlete’s foot and eczema. However, this kind of medicine contains steroids and can aggravate the symptoms by increasing the fungal growth. Only antifungal creams are recommended.
What is most important is to practice good foot hygiene to prevent athlete’s foot. Daily washing of the feet, followed by a thorough drying, especially between the toes, is essential to prevent the problem. Changing one’s shoes and socks or stockings regularly, particularly if you perspire heavily, is also important.
Dusting shoes and socks lightly with foot powder can be helpful. Using talcum powder also reduces perspiration.
In summer, wear light and airy shoes and thin socks. Cotton socks are preferable to those made of synthetic fiber. Families should not share socks and towels.
Diabetics need to be especially careful as their weakened immune systems make them more vulnerable to the fungus.
How to Avoid Athlete’s Foot
* Keep hands and feet clean and dry.
* Wash feet daily and dry them thoroughly, especially between the toes.
* Change shoes and socks regularly.
* Wear light and airy shoes and socks.
* Wear cotton socks rather than those made of synthetic fibers.
* Do not share socks, towels and slippers.
by Limb Jae-un