Fungal Infections of the Feet

Legs walking

Fungal infections of the feet are fairly common and are easily treated with anti-fungal medications.  However, left untreated, the symptoms can be very unpleasant.  These symptoms include itching and burning, peeling of the skin, and in more severe cases, cracking, bleeding, and blistering.       Fungal infections of the feet, commonly called athlete’s foot, are very contagious and can be spread through skin to skin contact, or through contact with a contaminated surface:  gyms, locker rooms, communal showers and swimming pools, for example—places where people commonly go barefoot.  Fungal infections can also be spread through contaminated clothing, especially socks and underwear.

Athlete’s foot fungus flourishes in warm, moist environments.  For this reason, the best preventative is often to keep areas subject to infection clean and dry.  For example, breathable shoes and clean cotton socks to wick away moisture can go a long way toward preventing fungal infections of the feet.

Once infected, anti-fungal medications such as miconazole, tolnaftate,econazole nitrate, clotrimazole, terbinafine, and ketoconazole (available in many prescription and over-the-counter medications) are the best method of treatment.  Oral capsules are also available for more advanced cases, though these are generally not recommended during pregnancy and should always be taken with the advise of a doctor.  Athlete’s foot fungus can also infect the groin area, the hands, and the toenails.  To prevent reinfection, it is important to treat all sites of infection simultaneously.

Home remedies for fungal infections of the feet include dilutions of vinegar in water and of chlorine bleach in water.  However, these remedies are much less consistent than most prescription or even over-the-counter medications, and can even be dangerous if the dilutions are too concentrated.

If home remedies or over-the-counter medications do not seem to be working, or if the symptoms get worse, medical attention should be sought.  Diabetes or a compromised immune system can also result in complications, including foot ulcerations and secondary infections.  If you suspect any of these complications, or if your symptoms persist, you may want to contact a board-certified dermatologist.

Once your case of athlete’s foot is cured, prevention is key to reduce the chance of reinfection.  Keep your feet clean and dry, especially in humid or tropical environments.  Only wear shoes that allow your feet to “breathe” and remove your shoes periodically to prevent moisture build-up.  Wear clean, cotton socks that wick moisture away from your feet.  And, avoid going barefoot where others may have spread the fungus:  gyms, locker rooms, communal showers, and pools.