Causes of Athlete's foot

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Athlete's foot or Tenia pedia is a fungal; infection of the skin affecting skin between the toes and sometimes over the foot. (1)

Fungi causes Athlete’s foot

The cause of this condition is a mould-like fungi called dermatophytes.

These fungi normally exist in the folds of the skin of the foot and their growth is restricted if the foot is clean and dry.

However, if a person wears closed, tight shoes and sweats too much, there is a warm wet atmosphere that allows the fungi to grow.

Plastic shoes are also triggers for growth of these fungi.

What are fungi?

Fungi are essentially tiny moulds.

They are parasitic and unlike plants cannot produce food from sunlight (photosynthesis).

They need to feed from broken down tissues of the animal they are infecting. This is what happens in Athlete’s foot. Dermatophytes may affect skin, nail, scalp or hair.

Two types of fungi

There are essentially two types of fungi that cause Tinea pedis –

  • Trichophyton rubrum – These lead to moccasin like lesions. This is a long lasting and often recurring condition that is difficult to treat.
  • Trichophyton mentagrophytes – Leads to blister like lesions in the toe webs. It is sudden, severe but treatable.

Athlete’s foot is contagious

Athlete's foot is contagious. It can spread rapidly from an infected person or from infected surfaces, such as towels, shows, socks, wet floors of pools and bathhouses.

Spread can be:

  • By direct contact with an infected individual. Here there is skin-to-skin contact.
  • By indirect contact with contaminated material like bedding, shoes, socks, clothing, wet surfaces at pools, baths, showers etc.

Risk of Athlete’s foot

Risk of getting the infection rises with age. Those who have the condition are likely to get it again.

Some people act as carriers who spread the infection but do not get it themselves.

This suggests that there may be a relationship with immune functions and risk of getting the infection.

Those with impaired or decreasing immunity like the elderly are more likely to get the infection. (2, 3)

Edited by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

What is Athlete's foot?
Athlete's foot Symptoms
Athlete's foot Diagnosis
Athlete's foot Treatments

Sources:

  1. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/athletes-foot/DS00317/DSECTION=causes
  2. http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/tc/athletes-foot-cause
  3. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Athletes-foot/Pages/Causes.aspx
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