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Athlete's foot: Causes, prevention, and treatment

While it's not a life-or-death matter, athlete's foot-especially if it's persistent-can be painful and make walking difficult.

The early signs of athlete's foot are patches or fissures (deep breaks or slits), especially between the toes. As the infection progresses, the skin may turn red, become itchy, and appear moist. Small blisters may spread out across the foot, breaking to expose raw fissures that are painful and may swell. The area between the toes is most often affected, but the infection may spread to the soles of the feet or to the toenails, which can become thick and colored white or cloudy yellow. In the most advanced cases, the rash will extend moccasin-style across the sole of your foot, and your feet may ooze pus and develop a foul odor.

Preventing athlete's foot

Athlete's foot breeds in locker rooms, swimming pool changing areas, or any place that combines dampness and a lot of foot traffic. I mproperly cleaned instruments used in a pedicure (either at a commercial salon or at home) can also lead to infection. The fungus can even contaminate bed sheets and spread to other body parts through rubbing and scratching. To control the spread of infection, keep bathroom surfaces clean and don't share towels The best way to prevent athlete's foot is by wearing sandals or shower shoes when walking around a locker room or pool. Keep your feet clean by washing them with soap and water at least once a day, and keep them dry the rest of the time. Put clean socks on every day, and change them more often if you sweat a lot or get them wet.

If going barefoot is the problem, then wearing socks and shoes would seem to be the solution. But socks and shoes largely contribute to the proliferation of athlete's foot once you have it: They create an ideal environment for fungi-dark, damp, and warm. Give your feet a chance to breathe. Take your shoes off while at home or wear sandals or canvas shoes that allow air to circulation.

Foot powders also can be protective. Apart from any antifungal substances they might contain, they work to reduce friction between toes and between the foot and sock. Less friction means less sweat and a drier, less fungus-friendly environment.

How to get rid of athlete's foot

There are numerous options for treating athlete's foot. If the infection is mild (scaly white patches of skin or fissures, but no redness or itching), pay special attention to foot hygiene. Wash your feet regularly, and dry them thoroughly, especially between the toes. Apply an antifungal cream to the affected area, and dust your socks and shoes with antifungal powder. When shopping for over-the-counter remedies for athlete's foot, look for products that contain clotrimazole, econazole, ketoconazole, miconazole, naftifine, oxiconazole, sulconazole, terbinafine, or terconazole.

Consult a foot care specialist if you see no improvement after two weeks of using over-the-counter remedies, if the infection is severe (the skin is red, itchy, peeling, or blistered), or if you have diabetes or some other circulatory problem.

November 2003 Update

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