Athlete's foot, known medically as tinea pedis, is a common skin infection of the feet caused by fungus. Signs and symptoms often include itching, scaling, cracking and redness. In rare cases the skin may blister. Athlete's foot fungus may infect any part of the foot, but most often grows between the toes. The next most common area is the bottom of the foot. The same fungus may also affect the nails or the hands. It is a member of the group of diseases known as tinea.
Many podiatrists now consider this an effective treatment, but because it’s new, there’s not enough concrete data to compare with other treatments. Dr. Hinkes raises another concern: “A clinical cure and a mycological cure are two different things. With the clinical cure, you look at the nail and it looks fine. It’s pink and shiny and smooth and it looks great. But if you sample the nail, you might find that there’s mold or fungus there, so it does not have what we call a mycological cure—mycology is the study of fungi.
Athlete's foot is divided into four categories or presentations: chronic interdigital athlete's foot, plantar (chronic scaly) athlete's foot (aka "moccasin foot"), acute ulcerative tinea pedis, and vesiculobullous athlete's foot. "Interdigital" means between the toes. "Plantar" here refers to the sole of the foot. The ulcerative condition includes macerated lesions with scaly borders. Maceration is the softening and breaking down of skin due to extensive exposure to moisture. A vesiculobullous disease is a type of mucocutaneous disease characterized by vesicles and bullae (blisters). Both vesicles and bullae are fluid-filled lesions, and they are distinguished by size (vesicles being less than 5–10 mm and bulla being larger than 5–10 mm, depending upon what definition is used).
The most common symptom of a fungal nail infection is the nail becoming thickened and discoloured: white, black, yellow or green. As the infection progresses the nail can become brittle, with pieces breaking off or coming away from the toe or finger completely. If left untreated, the skin underneath and around the nail can become inflamed and painful. There may also be white or yellow patches on the nailbed or scaly skin next to the nail, and a foul smell. There is usually no pain or other bodily symptoms, unless the disease is severe. People with onychomycosis may experience significant psychosocial problems due to the appearance of the nail, particularly when fingers – which are always visible – rather than toenails are affected.
If you have diabetes or a weakened immune system, treatment is especially important. After getting a fungal nail infection, people who have diabetes have an increased risk of developing sores that do not heal. Sores that do not heal can lead to a serious health problem. It’s important to see a dermatologist (or other doctor) at the first sign of a nail problem. A dermatologist can tell you whether you have a nail infection or something else.