Athlete's Foot: Is It for Athlete's Only

Infection looms in fickle fungus.

Joy Pape By Joy Pape, RN, BSN, CDE, WOCN, CFCN

Athlete's foot. What a strange name for such a common problem. If it's so common, why is it called athlete's foot? And do people who have diabetes have more problems with it?

What is athlete's foot?

Athlete's foot is a very common fungal infection of the feet. The medical and scientific name for it is tinea pedis. It can happen in or on one or both of your feet. It is contagious if you or someone else is susceptible to it. Some people are more susceptible than others.

How does a person get athlete's foot?

Fungi form spores that have a hard outer coating. These fungi are present in nature. If the circumstances are right, such as a warm, moist, dark environment, the spores will germinate when they come in contact with your skin, and will cause an infection within 4-6 hours. Wearing hosiery, and shoes that create such an environment increases your risk for athlete's foot. Wearing shoes is one of the biggest contributors to getting athlete's foot. But remember, a person with diabetes should not walk barefoot – inside or out.

Not everyone exposed to or that carries the fungus develops athlete's foot. You can even be a carrier and not have the infection, but someone susceptible can get it from you. People who are more susceptible are those with a weakened immune system such as those with HIV/AIDS and people with diabetes.

The infection can spread to other parts of your body.

Why is it called athlete's foot?

It is called athlete's foot because at one time it was most commonly associated with athletes.

Athletes spend more time in conditions conducive for athlete's foot such as:

• Perspiration due to physical activity
• Moist floors associated with shared showers, locker rooms, and changing areas
• Water sports

What are the signs and symptoms of athlete's foot?

The signs and symptoms are manifold. You may have some of these symptoms:

• Burning, itching, and stinging between your toes, especially between your last two toes.
• Burning, itching, and stinging and the soles of your feet.
• Peeling and cracking skin on the soles of your feet and or between your toes.
• Blisters that itch.
• Extremely dry scaly skin on the soles and or sides of your feet.
• Rash or on the soles and sides of your feet.
• Thickened, crumbly, discolored or partially discolored toenails.

How do I prevent athlete's foot?

Manage your blood glucose to as near normal levels as possible.
• Keep your feet clean and dry. Always dry the areas between your toes.
• Don't apply lotion or anything that will cause moisture between your toes.
• Wear shoes and cotton socks that are dry, not damp or moist. Avoid plastic shoes since they can hold moisture in.
Wear shoes that fit. Alternate your shoes to allow them to dry between wear. If your toes are pushed together to fit in your shoes, it increases the chance of moisture between your toes. Don't borrow other people's shoes or buy used shoes.
• Wear waterproof shoes when in moist environments.
• Wash your hands if your hands if you have touched your feet, someone else's, or pets. Pets can carry and pass on fungal infections.
• If you have had athlete's foot, you may need to throw away your shoes and socks you wore with the infection. Wash your bed linens, floors, rugs, and mats in hot soapy water and dry in a hot dryer. All of these measures help to prevent reinfection.

What is the treatment for athlete's foot?

• Manage your blood glucose to as near normal levels as possible.
• Use the preventive measures above.
• Contact your healthcare provider (hcp) if you have any of the signs or symptoms of athlete's foot. Your hcp may recommend you use an over-the-counter, nonprescription antifungal powder, ointment, lotion, or spray. If you don't respond to these, your hcp may recommend an oral antifungal (prescription) medication. Some of these medications are related to or can cause liver or heart problems. Make sure you talk with your hcp about blood tests and ways to recognize and prevent these problems. Your healthcare provider may also recommend medicated or special dressings and soaks, since people with diabetes are not recommended to soak their feet. Use only under the direction of your hcp.
• If you have a bacterial infection along with athlete's feet, your hcp may also recommend an antibiotic.

Are people with diabetes more likely to get athlete's foot?

It is reported that people with diabetes are up to three times as likely to develop athlete's foot than people who don't have diabetes. This is why once again you need to strive to get your blood glucose to near normal levels, or to your target range.


Read Joy's bio here.

Read more of Joy Pape's columns.

NOTE: The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition.

Last Modified Date: July 08, 2013

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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by Brenda Bell
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