Athlete's foot common to many
Athlete's foot (known as Tinea pedis in medical terminology) is a fungus infection of the skin of the foot. Tinea is the name of the fungus that grows in the skin between the toes as well as underneath the toes. It can also infect the toe nails, which become thickened, discoloured, and brittle. This fungus can also affect the skin in other folds of the body such as the groin and the armpits.

The usual symptoms of Tinea pedis are itchiness of the affected area and an offensive smell (what is sometimes referred to as "bad toe jam"!).The skin can become flaky, and if moistened by sweat or water (as after a swim,) the top layer of the skin becomes white, macerated and soggy.

Fungal infection of the soles is very common, especially in people who wear closed shoes with socks - but most people do not consider the symptoms bothersome enough to consult a doctor. The condition is more common in men because in our climate it's men who are more likely to wear socks and shoes.
Preventive measures

  • Keep your feet as clean and dry as possible by washing with soap and drying (especially between the toes) every day.
  • After drying your feet, apply some talcum powder (there are also anti-fungal powders available) to absorb moisture and maintain dryness.
  • If possible, wear open sandals or slippers rather than closed shoes.
  • Avoid socks made of synthetic materials like nylon and wear light socks made of naturally absorbent material like cotton that will allow the feet to "breathe".
  • Wear a fresh pair of socks every day. Dry your shoes overnight before putting them on the following day. Remember that we perspire about 250 ml through the skin of our feet each day, and this sweat gets absorbed by our socks and shoes; fungi thrive in moist areas of skin.

For mild cases of Tinea pedis, applying time honoured remedies such as Whitfield's ointment, selenium sulphide shampoos (like Selsun) and tolnaftate solution. n other cases, one of the newer antifungal medications such as clotrimazole, miconazole or ketoconazole are effective. These are available as creams, ointments, solutions and powders, and should be applied twice a day to the affected area after washing and drying for about three weeks.

In the rare cases where topical applications don't work, your doctor may recommend a course of antifungal tablets - but these are strong and can have some serious side effects, so they should not be prescribed for every case of fungal skin infection.

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