Athlete’s foot complications and risk factors?

Pools, showers, and hot, humid surfaces are the usual breeding ground for the fungus that causes an athlete’s foot. Learn how to prevent the reproduction and spread of these infectious agents

It is called athlete’s foot, an infection that affects the feet and is generally located in the interdigital folds, on the sole, and the edges of the same. Despite its name, it does not only affect athletes and is also known as ringworm of foot ( Tinea pedis ) or tinea pedis.

It is usually identified because the skin cracks or flakes, detaching from between the toes or the sides of the foot, although burning, itching, or blisters may also appear. It can also spread to the nail area, which in this case lose their color and thicken, and may come off.  

How is an athlete’s foot spread?

The causative organism is a dermatophyte fungus called Trichophyton rubrum. This infection is very common throughout the world, although people who live in hot and humid climates, which favor the colonization of fungi, have a higher risk of contracting it. Cases can be found in both men and women of any age, although a higher proportion of infections is seen in young men. 

It is considered the most frequent superficial infection caused by fungi, and up to 8 out of 10 individuals present it throughout their life. There is an increased risk of suffering from it over the years. However, if the treatment is started soon and properly, it is controlled without too many problems in 2-4 weeks.

It is transmitted directly from person to person and through objects contaminated with the fungus, such as shoes, socks or towels, or the pool’s surfaces or shower. Hence, good hygiene and prevention, especially in warm areas and times and in social centers where people tend to go barefoot, is essential to avoid their appearance.

Causes of athlete’s foot

In 98% of cases, the cause of the appearance of athlete’s foot is due to dermatophyte fungi. These types of infections where the infectious agent is a fungus are called mycosis. In the rest of the cases, it is due to the action of yeasts such as candida or some bacteria.

The Trichophyton rubrum is the fungus implicated in origin, although others similar as Trichophyton mentagrophytes, Trichophyton mentagrophytes, and Epidermophyton floccosum interdigital have been identified in other cases of this disease.

These fungi infect tissues that are keratinized and increase in warm and humid environments. For this reason, wearing closed shoes, especially if the patient’s feet sweat a lot, favors the necessary conditions of humidity and heat for fungi to reproduce. Being a contagious infection, the risk of transmission is increased when using public swimming pools and gyms without taking the proper precautions.

Risk factors for athlete’s foot

We can consider some risk factors for the development of an athlete’s foot infection:

  • Sports: some very closed sports shoes, due to their less perspiration, can favor athlete’s foot, for example, ski boots. Also, other sports such as swimming predispose to it by transmission through wet feet.
  • Climatology: very frequent in hot climates due to the greater production of sweat.
  • Moisture: keeping your feet wet for too long or not drying them properly.
  • Hyperhidrosis: the increased sweating of some people favors the development of this entity.
  • Drugs: antibiotics, corticosteroids, can alter the flora of the skin of the feet and interdigital and promote an overgrowth of fungi.
  • Diseases: chronic pathologies, which alter the defenses, and vascular problems that lead to alterations in the quality of the skin, can offer greater exposure to contracting athlete’s foot.

Athlete’s foot symptoms

Some patients with athlete’s foot may remain asymptomatic, with only a bad odor from the infection, although symptoms of athlete’s foot are seen in others.

Therefore, the different forms of athlete’s foot can be classified, with their respective symptoms:

  • Chronic form: constant redness and itching of the foot are observed, especially at night. It’s the most frequent form.
  • Hyperkeratotic form: in this state, cracks, blisters, and scales usually appear in the infected area, in addition to hyperkeratosis, which consists of the outer layer of the skin becoming thick.
  • Medium bladder shape: the skin has a series of blisters that should not be exploited.
  • Ulcerative form: once this state is reached, there is a high probability that the athlete’s foot is associated with a secondary bacterial infection, which may need to be treated with antibiotics. Interdigital ulcers are seen, especially in patients with a weakened immune system and in people with diabetes.

The most common signs of athlete’s foot infection are redness and blisters, with areas of maceration, which are characteristically located between the toes and specifically in the third and fourth web spaces. This can lead to small crevices in the folds with the consequent discomfort and risk of added bacterial infection. 

Athlete’s foot complications

In those patients with poor circulation, the infection can be complicated, even having to amputate the foot. This can happen to diabetic patients, for example.

Athlete’s feet can also affect the hands or nails, making them look bad: colorless, thickened, and even demolished.