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What is Tinea Pedis?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 28 November 2016
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Tinea pedis, commonly called athlete's foot, is a fungal skin infection that causes flaking, itching, and sometimes inflammation. As its name suggests, tinea pedis -- meaning literally "ringworm of the foot" -- affects the feet, but the infection can spread to other areas, such as the groin. Tinea pedis is usually spread in moist environments in which people are often barefoot, such as in bathhouses and public showers. The infection can be prevented by good hygiene, and it can usually be cured by an over the counter fungicide.

Tinea pedis most commonly affects the area between the toes. It can be caused by a variety of parasitic fungi. Athlete's foot always causes the skin to become itchy and flaky or scaly, but in more severe cases, the infection can cause the skin to blister and crack, leading to pain, swelling, and sometimes secondary bacterial infection. Athlete's foot can also spread to other areas of the body, but in such cases, the terminology of the infection changes. For example, fungal infection of the groin is called tinea cruris, while fungal infection of the toenail bed is termed onychomycosis.

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The fungi that cause tinea pedis thrive in moist environments, and can spread from person to person. To prevent the spread of infection, it is important to keep one's feet and footwear clean and dry, and to avoid sharing footwear or towels. In addition, it is advisable to wear sandals in public showers or bathhouses so that one's feet do not come in direct contact with the wet floor. Frequent laundering of sheets, towels, and socks, and the use of a disinfectant in the shower and on bathroom tiles can help prevent the spread of athlete's foot in the home.

Some cases of tinea pedis clear up on their own through good hygiene practices and palliative treatment, but antifungal medication is the standard line of treatment. There are over the counter and prescription medications to treat athlete's foot, both of which are typically followed for a course of at least four weeks after the symptoms disappear. Topical treatments are the most common, but in some severe cases, an oral antifungal may be prescribed. If secondary bacterial infection is present, an oral antibiotic must be prescribed.

Some effective methods to treat the symptoms of tinea pedis, such as itching and pain, include the application of tea tree oil or baking soda, or a soak in Epsom salts dissolved in warm water. Garlic and onion extract may help cure the infection as well. It is not recommended to use anti-itch creams, because, while they relieve the itch, they can contribute to the growth of the fungus since they make the skin more moist.

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