Common Illnesses

Athlete's Foot

What is it?

Athlete's foot probably got its name from the type of person who is often affected, but it is simply a skin fungus that can infect anyone. The technical name is tinea pedis. There are several varieties of this fungus, some more resistant to treatment than others. Another commonly used name is "ringworm" of the feet.

Active people (often athletes) generate elevated skin temperature in the process of dissipating body heat and this combined with perspiration and the darkness inside of shoes are ideal growing conditions for tinea pedis. The fungus can effect most any part of the foot, but has a special liking for the spaces between the fourth and fifth toes. The same fungus can infect the groin at times and occasionally produces an allergic reaction which shows itself as a rash on the hands.

Males are more commonly infected than females. Athlete's foot is transmissible, but usually indirectly through such means as contaminated gymnasium floors and showers, or borrowing contaminated shoes and socks.

The fungus is usually slow in responding to treatment. Some varieties involve nails and may be very stubborn to eradicate. Some people are more susceptible than others; a few may carry the fungus for years.


Washing and drying feet as often as is practical - at least once a day is a most important step in susceptible people with moist feet. Wearing well ventilated shoes or sandals is helpful as is a frequent change of socks, preferably cotton. Wearing flip-flops in community gyms and showers is also a good idea. Some people have good success in warding off athlete's foot by powdering their feet, especially between the toes, with talc or perhaps an antifungal powder. Expose them to sunlight as often as possible.


Frequent washing, drying, powdering and sock changing is essential, as is avoidance of recontamination. In mild cases - slight redness and cracking between toes - an antifungal powder, available without a prescription, is often all that is needed if continued long enough (Remember, fungus is stubborn!). For more severe cases, medical attention is called for. Doctors generally prescribe antifungal soaks, solutions, creams, or ointments and occasionally antibiotics to clear up secondary infections. To make an appointment at Student Health Services call 978-934-4991 or stop by the office.