Athlete's foot is the fungal infection, "tinea pedis." It is in the same family as ringworm (tinea corporis), jock itch (tinea cruris) and ringworm of the scalp (tinea capitis). Athlete's foot is a common infection, and while often seen among athletes, can occur in anyone.
Athlete's foot most often occurs between the toes. although it can spread to the toenails and tops of the toes. This is because shoes provide the warm, moist and dark environment the fungus likes best. The first symptoms are usually intense itching or burning between the toes. If not treated, symptoms of athlete's foot can also include peeling skin, blisters, dry, scaly skin and even crumbling toenails.
Athlete's foot gets its name from when it seemed to occur commonly among athletes. Showers, pools and locker rooms are all ideal places for athlete's foot to hide, and athletes naturally frequent these places, also. The causative fungus is the dermatophyte, which are rather mold-like. When established in the skin, the dermatophytes multiply, spreading the itch and rash.
Fortunately, athlete's foot is usually easily treated, and generally does not require medical attention. Several over-the-counter antifungal creams are available. The most common are: Terbinafine (Lamisil AT); Clotrimazole Lotrimin AF) and Miconazole (Micatin). Applying the cream to the affected area two or three times a day for a few days will usually bring relief and healing.
Left untreated, athlete's foot can cause skin breakdown and a secondary bacterial infection, especially in those who have suppressed immune systems (diabetics or HIV/AIDS patients). For intractable cases, a doctor may prescribe oral antifungal medication that is usually very effective against athlete's foot, or any fungus in the tinea family.
Athlete's foot is also easy to prevent. Most podiatrists recommend using an antifungal powder in one's shoes, wearing socks made of wool or cotton, wearing light, well-ventilated shoes, wearing shower shoes in communal showers and keeping feet dry when possible, by going barefoot at home.
It isn't comfortable, but with prompt treatment, athlete's foot usually disappears as quickly as it arrives.