Foot Fungal Infection | Causes, Symptoms & Treatment
The feet are prone to contract fungal infections, with these opportunistic organisms often given the perfect conditions for growth and proliferation thanks to the warm moist environment created by socks and shoes. Whilst infections can be caused by fungi which are picked up by walking barefoot in communal areas, they can also be caused by fungi which normally live on the feet when the conditions are right for them to grow, and often when the immune system is compromised.
Fungal infections can be caused by a number of different fungi, although it is a specific type of fungi called dermatophytes which is usually responsible for an infection. These fungi feed of keratin; a structural fibrous protein which is found in the skin. The name given to fungal infections depends on where the infection has taken place, be it the body, hands, feet or hair. When fungi affect the feet the condition takes the lain name for fungus of tinea, plus the corresponding Latin name for the affected body part.
Fungal infections of the feet therefore go by the name of tinea pedis, the hands is tinea manuum, the body is tinea corporis, the groin is tinea cruris and the scalp is tinea capitis. Fungal infections can also infect the nails, in which case it is termed Tinea unguium, although it may also go by the name of onychomycosis. To make matters even more confusing, fungal infections also have the rather misleading name of ringworm, along with common names such Athlete’s Foot and jock Itch (groin).
Regardless of the name, the symptoms are similar wherever the fungus affects the skin with the skin becoming inflamed, itchy with a scaly appearance, often peeling skin and often blisters. The fungi are highly contagious and can be spread through bedding, towels and in the case of Athlete’s foot and foot fungal infections, by walking barefoot. The fungal infection can also spread from the feet to other locations such as the groin, either by drying the feet first after a bath or shower and then drying the rest of the body or by touching the affected foot and not washing the hands thoroughly.
Whilst the condition may be embarrassing, fungal infections are very common, with estimates that 20-25% of adults will contract a foot fungal infection at some point during a lifetime. Whilst the body can usually do a good job at fighting off fungal infections, if the conditions are right the fungi can proliferate. Since they need warm and moist conditions to grow, anybody who sweats a lot stands a greater chance of contracting an infection, hence the names “Athlete” and “Jock” in the common names. Foot fungal infections are common secondary infections, which develop when the immune system is fighting off another infection, or when antibiotics are being taken.
Foot fungal infections normally affect the area between the toes, although they are not necessarily restricted to that area. Athlete’s foot is typically caused by a fungus called trichophyton rubrum, although other species of fungus can also cause the condition.
What are the symptoms of a fungal infection?
Since fungal infections can affect both the skin and the nails, they are treated separately. However it is common for the infection to start with the skin and then progress to the nail. Nail fungal infections can be more difficult to treat, as it is not always possible to apply topical anti-fungal creams properly when the infection has spread underneath the nail. In this case oral anti-fungal medication is often prescribed.
- Red marks appear on the skin
- There can be slight bleeding
- The skin feels itchy and may burn
- Blisters and spots appear on the skin
- Sometimes swelling also occurs
- Nails change their color; they become yellow or dusty brown
- Nails become deformed and normally become thick
- Debris starts to form under the nail
- The nail becomes chalky or crumbly
- White spots and marks start to appear on the nails
Treatment for Foot Fungal Infections
Early treatment is the key as when fungal infections become more severe, treatment can be more difficult. Internal fungal infections are highly serious, but these are rare and are normally associated with long term antibiotic treatments or with autoimmune diseases.
Treatment for a foot fungal infection is usually with topical anti-fungal creams which are applied to clean dry skin, directly on top of the affected area. It is important to ensure that the feet are kept dry and clean, and where possible sandals should replace shoes to maintain air flow.
Since bacterial infections can mimic the symptoms of fungal skin infections it is best to visit a doctor for a full diagnosis. A doctor may take a sample of the affected skin for a lab analysis to confirm that it is a fungal infection, and to determine the type of fungus that is causing the problem. Anti-fungal medication will not cure bacterial infections so it is important to know for sure that it is a fungal infection affecting the feet before treatment is started.
Medicines and ointments which will relief foot fungus include:
- Gordochom Fungicide-Germicide
- Tineacide Antifungal Cream
- Bromi-Lotion Antiperspirant
- Tineacide Antifungal Shoe Spray
- RESTORE AF
Prevention of Fungal Infections
- Do not let your feet get moist. Dry them thoroughly after washing, and use talcum powder or medicated foot powder to keep the feet dry
- Make sure the socks or towels you are using are clean. Since fungal infections are contagious, you should avoid using another person’s socks, shoes or towels
- Avoid walking barefoot in communal areas such as swimming pools and changing rooms, and wear flip-flops or sports sandals
- Try to buy socks which absorb moisture and sweat. Avoid Nylon and Polyester socks and buy cotton, wool or Coolmax® fiber socks