I have an itchy foot rash: is it tinea or athlete's foot?
An itchy foot rash does not seem like a big issue to some people, however, at Complete Podiatry, we understand how irritating and potentially embarrassing this sort of problem can be.
We help many clients every week who are desperate to know "what is causing these dry, itchy foot blisters on my feet?" to build a better life, from the feet up.
What is tinea and athletes foot?
Tinea and athletes foot are just different names for the same thing really; a fungal infection of the skin of the foot.
Athletes foot is an older term used to describe the skin condition many athletes would suffer from due to having sweaty feet from exercising so much.
However, the correct term for Athlete's foot is tinea pedis which just means fungal infection of the skin on the feet.
There are three main types of fungi that cause tinea in the feet:
- Trichophyton rubrum
- Trichophyton interdigitale
- Epidermophyton floccosum
In nature, the role of fungus is to break down organic matter (like dead plants and animals).
So basically when you have tinea in your feet, the fungus is trying to compost your skin!!!
In a healthy individual this usually only develops into a minor problem that can be easily managed.
However, if you have a chronic medical condition such as diabetes, immune system compromise or circulation problems, tinea can lead to ulceration about the feet and much more serious complications.
How do you develop tinea?
The fungus that causes tinea is normally preset on the feet no matter how much you wash or clean your feet.
It is usually just waiting for an opportunity to get into the skin and begin to multiply.
Normally, the initiating event is something simple like a minor abrasion or break in the skin that allows the fungus to get in.
Fungus tends to thrive in a moist, dark environment and your foot sitting inside a sock sitting inside a shoe all day is the perfect environment for tinea to develop.
If your feet are dirty and remain wet or moist, this is a perfect recipe for developing a fungal infection in the feet.
What does foot tinea lool like?
Tinea of the feet usually presents in one of three ways:
1. Tinea between the toes
This type of tinea produces itchy erosions and/or scales between the toes, especially between 4th and 5th toes.
It can also uncommonly cause oozing and ulceration between the toes in susceptible people.
Tinea between the toes tends to be made worse when you wear tight-fitting shoes that squash the toes together and stops moisture from drying out.
This helps to allow the tinea to thrive and, in combination with movement of the toes, causes the skin the break down.
2. Scaly tinea on the soles of the feet
When a tinea infection covers a larger part of the skin surface it is commonly referred to as moccasin tinea.
This type of tinea often produces dry, scaly skin changes that cover the bottom of the feet.
It can eventually cover the entire soles of the feet and all about the edges and can look like you are wearing a "tinea slipper" - hence the name moccasin tinea.
3. Tinea with vesicles (little blisters)
When tinea presents as an itchy small to medium-sized blisters, usually affecting the inner aspect of the foot - the arch area - this is referred to as vesiculobullous tinea.
It may start as one or two small blisters that tend to pop or dry out before more develop.
As this type of tinea progresses you will develop a dry, flaky edge with redness while the central area tends to look a little shiny.
How do I treat tinea?
The most effective way to manage tinea is usually a simple 3 step approach.
1. Treat the cause of the tinea
There are a number of over the counter preparations you can purchase from the pharmacy to treat tinea infections in the feet.
Antifungal creams, liquids or sprays are most commonly used and there are a number of different medications available without a prescription (and MANY different brands).
The most common tinea treatments usually contain one of the following medications.
Our Podiatrists can help you decide which is the most appropriate antifungal medication for your situation and how long you should use it for.
2. Improve the health of the skin
Tinea will irritate and inflame your skin when it is active so it is really important to improve the health of the skin once you have treated the fungal infection.
Using a really good foot cream like Akieine Blue on a regular basis keeps the skin soft, supple and resistant to the damage that can allow fungi to get into your skin and multiply.
A good foot cream like this will also help prevent minor cracks and splits caused by dryness that allows fungi to get into the skin in the first place.
Another great way to help to improve the health of the skin on your feet is to gently sand off any dry skin about the heels every few days.
Using a foot sanding file, gently rub any dry skin to reduce the risk of fungi establishing itself in these vulnerable areas.
3. Wear the right shoes and socks
Wearing appropriate footwear can change the physical environment about the skin of your feet to reduce the fungi's ability to grow and develop.
If you tend to walk about barefooted, the skin about the edges of the feet tends to become dry and stressed.
Regular barefooted walking on hard, flat or rough walking surfaces can irritate the skin and cause it to become easily damaged.
The best sorts of shoes should:
- be designed to encourage good airflow to allow the skin on the feet to stay dry
- have a good fastener that holds the foot stable in the shoe to prevent rubbing and friction on the skin
- have adequate cushioning to reduce pressure from the skin hitting the ground
- be wide fitting at the toes to prevent the little toes from being squashed together
Need more help?
At Complete Podiatry, we help many clients every day with fungal infections in the skin of their feet.
With the right sort of advice and treatment, tinea on the feet can be easily managed however, it does take a degree of commitment to the management plan to make sure it resolves properly.
If you are suffering from tinea in your feet, my challenge for you is to make the decision to do something about it now and get your skin looking and feeling great again.
Yours in helping to build amazing lives from the feet up,
Director of Complete Podiatry