Tinea pedis or athlete's foot is a fungal infection of the skin on the foot often occurring between the toes and sometimes on the heel. Tinea pedis is highly contagious and can be contracted through either direct or indirect contact. The severity of infection varies and can last as little as a week or two to as long as a month or more. Common symptoms include scaly, thick skin with a dry look, redness and itching. Treatment includes over-the-counter medication in most cases, though severe cases may require a prescription.
Transmission of tinea pedis occurs either through direct contact with infected skin or through indirect contact, such as by socks or bathroom and locker floors where the fungus may be present. Tinea pedis is a common organism on the human body, but it can quickly multiply and result in infections given the right environment. Pets in the home also transmit fungal infections such as tinea pedis to humans sometimes, according to the Mayo Clinic. Men and those with compromised immune systems are at increased risk of contracting a tinea pedis infection.
Tinea pedis, like all fungi, thrive in warm, moist and dark conditions. It is in such environments that tinea pedis multiplies and infects the skin. Risk of infection increases if shoes are worn which do not allow air circulation, if feet remain wet or sweaty for long periods of time and if the skin is already damaged as this is an opportunistic type of microorganism.
Once present on the foot, tinea pedis organisms grow extensions that infect the upper skin layer. The skin responds by increasing skin-cell production in an attempt to rid the body of the infection. This causes thick, scaly skin that seems to move in an outward circular fashion as the fungi continues spreading. As tinea pedis develops and spreads, secondary infections occur in some cases. Avoid secondary infections by not scratching or doing anything to further irritate the skin.
Over-the-counter topical anti-fungal creams or sprays work for most cases of tinea pedis. These are typically applied once or twice daily and take two to four weeks to resolve the infection. Severe cases may require prescription topical ointments or oral medications. Secondary infections require antibiotic treatment as well.
There are several steps you can take to prevent the occurrence of tinea pedis. Go barefoot when at home and wear natural fiber socks that will wick sweat and moisture away from the skin. If you find that your socks are damp at any point in the day, put on a new, dry pair as soon as possible. Wear shoes that allow your feet to breathe and never wear damp shoes. Wear sandals, flip flops or other protective footwear in public places.