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Athletes Foot

The term ‘athlete’s foot’ was first documented in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1928 and gained popularity with the product Absorbine Jr. Speculation leads us to believe that athletes and sports teams did not have the hygiene capabilities that we do now, and thus many athletes were optimum hosts for the fungus to grow, thus more susceptible to the disease. Athlete’s foot can affect anyone, regardless of fitness level, and is currently the second largest skin condition in America after acne.

Tinea pedis (clinical term for athlete’s foot) is a parasitic fungal infection of the epidermis (outer skin) of the human foot. However, the term indicates the disease condition but not the fungus that is responsible for the disease. The same fungus can also cause Jock Itch, or tinea cruris.


Athlete’s foot is caused by a mould or yeast that thrives on the skin surface first, and then goes into the living skin tissue causing the infection. The most frequent fungi that cause athlete’s foot are known as Trichophyton rubrum and T. mentagrophytes. A fungal infection of the skin (Dermatophysis), athlete's foot is spread from other people (known as Anthropophilic) or from animals (known as Zoophilic). Some are spread via the ground or soil, which are called Geophilic. They are all responsible for the infections that affect people in different ways. But Anthropophilic dermatophytes is restricted to human hosts, producing a relatively mild but chronic inflammation. Infections, or more precisely infestations, occur when dermophytes grow and multiply within the skin. Sharing socks, towels or other clothes without through hygiene is an easy way to spread the fungus.


Athlete’s foot is first and foremost very itchy. Usually a sufferer of athlete’s foot will notice an unwavering itch between the toes and on the balls of the feet (between the 4th and 5th toe is most common). The scratching of athlete’s foot only causes more inflammation and tissue damage, thus making the symptoms worse. A few days after the onset of the initial itchiness, the skin on and around the affected areas will begin scaling and flaking. Sometimes athlete’s foot results in the cracking of the skin which exposes the flesh which can be extremely painful. Once cracks in the skin start appearing, the foot is susceptible to numerous other fungal infections (and viral infections) and should be kept clean at all times. Socks should also be very clean and worn at all times.

If hygiene is not kept up, it is possible for the fungus to spread to other parts of the body such as the armpits, elbows, knees and groin. Although the name of the infection (both layman’s and scientific) changes when the infection spreads to other parts of the body, the symptoms as a whole are generally the same.


Although athlete’s foot can be easily diagnosed by visual inspection, it should better be checked through KOH microscopy test (with the help of potassium hydroxide preparation) in order to rule out other probable causes like psoriasis or eczema and a biopsy done if the causes seem doubtful. A diagnosis is important before athlete’s foot treatment can start. Always visit your dermatologist, podiatrist or pharmacist before commencing treatment for athlete’s foot. A common test for fungal infections of the hair do not work for athlete’s foot as the fungi in athlete’s foot do not glow under the florescent light.


Because athlete’s foot is so common, there are many treatment methods available. In the recent past, over the counter drugs were most common. However, after many studies have shown that good hygiene is the best way to cure athlete’s foot, more and more people chose natural medicines to aid in dealing with the symptoms or to speed up healing in conjunction with regular and fastidious hygiene practices. Athlete’s foot usually lasts about 45 days.

Anti fungal agents are extremely popular. Anti fungal medicines come in creams, gels and powders and usually contain Miconazole nitrate and Tolnaftate. These are both over-the-counter drugs. There are many other prescription drugs available which your physician would prescribe to you after looking at your medical history.

Many people find creams and gels that will ease the itch of the fungus. This is not recommended as most anti-itch creams will actually exacerbate the problem by making the sking drier, crack easier and in some cases actually spread the athlete’s foot.

Other treatments, such as oral medication are available for athlete’s foot (such as griseofulvin), but these medications still have a number of unwanted side effects such as anemia.

We know much more about athlete’s foot today than we ever did, and doctors now agree that hygiene is the best practice for a cure. Supplementing hygiene with natural treatments is the perfect way to rid yourself of athlete’s foot with literally no side effects. Common natural or alternate treatments include witch hazel, which in some cases clears up athlete’s foot in just a few days. Onion extract is said to have healing effects on the bacteria, as well as baking soda and rubbing alcohol.


When considering the transmission aspect of this communicable disease, it should be noted that it is typically transmitted through moist environs where people usually walk barefoot like the bath house, locker room or the shower. It may also be transmitted from sharing bath towels. One should never walk barefoot in these areas (wearing rubber soled sandals are ideal), or share bath towels with strangers. Preferably, disinfecting bathrooms and locker rooms frequently can greatly reduce the spreading of athlete’s foot. Socks and other items of personal effects should be machine washed in warm water regularly if any member of the family has contacted athlete’s foot. Needless to say, all footwear and the feet should be kept as dry as possible so that the fungi do not get any chance to thrive there unnoticed.

Keeping yourself clean, being careful in public areas where sanitation is in question and avoiding the sharing of towels and unwashed clothes is the best measure for preventing athlete’s foot. Furthermore, many other communicable diseases and afflictions can be thwarted by following these practices.

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