All about athlete's foot

Originally Published: May 18, 1995 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: May 15, 2014
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(1)

Dear Alice,

I have a common problem with a weird twist. I have athlete's foot, but only on one foot. I try to keep my shower clean, and if my shower was causing the problem, wouldn't my other foot have athlete's foot also? How do I get rid of it? I've tried over-the-counter medication and it seems to work, and then the AF returns. What is the best course of action to rid myself of the AF??

Thanks,

Itchy Foot

(2)

Dear Alice,

I've been ridden with chronic athlete's foot for about ten years or so...I've finally gained control of the athlete's foot, but have not been able to overcome the fungus growth beneath the toenails. The "over the counter" athlete's foot creams, etc., don't seem to overcome this unsightly distortion of my toenails. Is there something available that I just don't know about? I've read of a drug available through physicians, but the literature indicates possible "side effects." Can you help?

Sincerely,

"Horny-Toed"

Dear “Horny-Toed” and Itchy Foot,

So much for feeling footloose and fancy free! Athlete’s foot can be frustrating (and sometimes stubborn) to treat, but take comfort knowing that many have been in your shoes — athlete’s foot is the most common type of fungal infection out there.

The fungus that causes athlete’s foot, tinea pedis, usually irritates the skin between the toes, often causing itching, burning, and stinging. Other symptoms include blisters, cracking or peeling of the skin, and excessive dryness on the foot. While the fourth and fifth toes are the most commonly affected, other parts of the foot can develop athlete’s foot as well. Although contagious, it might interest you to know that it’s not uncommon for one foot to be more susceptible to the fungus than the other.

Sometimes athlete’s foot can be easily treated with over-the-counter medication; however, going toe to toe with this fungus isn’t always easy. If self-treatment doesn’t work or if you frequently get return infections, it’s best to hot foot it over to your healthcare provider in order to find an appropriate treatment plan. S/he will most likely prescribe a cream or oral medication to combat the problem. If you notice excessive redness, swelling, drainage, fever, or if you have diabetes and suspect you have athlete’s foot, you should consult your provider immediately, prior to trying to treat the infection on your own. At Columbia, students can make an appointment by contacting Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC).

As you’ve noticed, “Horny-Toed,” when the fungal infection of athlete's foot finds its way under the toenails (also known as onychomycosis or toenail fungus), it is next to impossible to get rid of with over-the-counter athlete's foot creams. Luckily, as you pointed out, there are prescription medications that usually do the trick in cases such as yours. Of course, there are side-effects associated with just about any medication — it's a matter of weighing the pros and cons of drug treatment versus alternative treatment, or none at all, before deciding what to do. You, too, may want to consider speaking with your health care provider about your options and the pros and cons of each. Read Toenail fungus from the Go Ask Alice! archives for more information on symptoms, prevention, and treatment of toenail fungus.

To stay one step ahead of athlete’s foot, try following the tips below:

  • Protect your feet in locker rooms or public showers by wearing flip-flops or sandals.
  • Keep your feet dry. Consider using anti-fungal or talcum powder if your feet or prone to sweating, dry your feet thoroughly before putting on socks or tights, and alternate footwear to make sure you’re wearing dry shoes at all times (i.e. avoid wearing yesterday’s sweat-soaked sneakers today).
  • Wash your feet daily, especially between the toes.
  • Change your socks, stockings, or tights regularly.

Here’s to hoping both of you will be back on your feet in no time! 

Alice