Athlete's foot

Athlete's foot is a common condition of peeling skin on the feet caused by afungal infection that results in the skin becoming itchy, sore, cracked, andpeeling. Athlete's foot (also known as foot ringworm) is so common that mostpeople will have at least one episode during their lifetime. The disease canbe treated, but it can be tenacious and difficult to clear up completely.

Athlete's foot is caused by a the fungi Trichophyton rubrum, T. mentagrophytes, and Epidermophyton floccosum. These fungi live exclusively on dead body tissue (hair, the outer layer of skin, and nails), and grow best in moist, damp, dark places with poor ventilation. The infection occurs most often between the fourth and fifth toes.

Symptoms of athlete's foot include itchy, sore skin on the toes, with scaling, cracking, inflammation, and blisters. Blisters that break, exposing raw patches of tissue, can cause pain and swelling. As the infection spreads, itching and burning may get worse.

If it's not treated, athlete's foot can spread to the soles of the feet and toenails. Stubborn toenail infections may appear with crumbling, scaling and thickened nails, and nail loss. The infection can spread further if patients scratch and then touch themselves elsewhere (especially in the groin or underthe arms). It's also possible to spread the infection to other parts of the body via contaminated bed sheets or clothing.

Many people carry the athlete's foot fungi on their skin. However, these fungi will only grow to the point of causing athlete's foot if conditions are right. Many people believe athlete's foot is highly contagious, especially in public swimming pools and shower rooms. Research has shown, however, that it isdifficult to pick up the infection simply by walking barefoot over a contaminated damp floor. Exactly why some people develop the condition and others don't is not well understood.

Sweaty feet, tight shoes, synthetic socks that don't absorb moisture, a warmclimate, and not drying the feet well after swimming or bathing, all contribute to the growth of the fungi.

Not all foot rashes are athlete's foot, which is why a physician should diagnose the condition before any remedies are used. Using nonprescription products on a rash that is not athlete's foot could make the rash worse.

A dermatologist diagnoses the condition by physical examination and by examining a preparation of skin scrapings under a microscope. This test, called a KOH preparation, treats a sample of tissue scraped from the infected area withheat and potassium hydroxide (KOH). This treatment dissolves certain substances in the tissue sample, making it possible to see the fungi under the microscope.

Athlete's foot may be resistant to medication and should not be ignored. Simple cases usually respond well to antifungal creams or sprays (clotrimazole, ketoconazole, miconazole nitrate, sulconazole nitrate, or tolnaftate). If theinfection is resistant to treatments placed directly on the skin, the doctormay prescribe oral antifungal drugs. Untreated athlete's foot may lead to a secondary bacterial infection in the skin cracks.

Alternative medical treatments may be appropriate for treating athlete's foot. A footbath containing cinnamon has been shown to slow down the growth of certain molds and fungi, and is said to be very effective in clearing up athlete's foot. Other herbal remedies used externally to treat athlete's foot include a foot soak or powder containing goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis),tea tree oil (Melaleuca spp.), or calendula (Calendula officinalis) cream to help heal cracked skin.

Athlete's foot usually responds well to treatment, but it is important to useall medication as directed, even if the skin appears to be free of disease.Otherwise, the infection could return. The toenail infections that may accompany athlete's foot, are typically very hard to treat effectively

Good personal hygiene and a few simple precautions such as drying feet thoroughly, avoid tight shoes, shoes worn without socks, wearing bathing shoes in public bathing or showering areas, and using a good quality foot powder can help prevent athlete's foot.

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