Athlete’s foot is a skin disease caused by a fungus, usually occurring between the toes. The fungus most commonly attacks the feet because shoes create a warm, dark, and humid environment which encourages fungus growth. Not all fungus conditions are athlete’s foot. Other conditions, such as disturbances of the sweat mechanism, reaction to dyes or adhesives in shoes, eczema, and psoriasis, may mimic athlete’s foot.
The warmth and dampness of areas around swimming pools, showers, and locker rooms are also breeding grounds for fungi. Because the infection was common among athletes who used these facilities frequently, the term “athlete’s foot” became popular.
The signs of athlete’s footinclude the following:
- Dry skin
- Itching and burning, which may increase as the infection spreads
- • Blisters, which often lead to cracking of the skin. When blisters break, small raw areas of tissue are exposed, causing pain and swelling.
If an apparent fungus condition does not respond to proper foot hygiene and there is no improvement within two weeks, consult a podiatrist.
Excessive sweating of the feet is called hyperhidrosis. It’s more common in men than in women, and more common in young adults than older adults. Excessive sweating of the feet seems to be an inherited problem. No one knows exactly why it occurs, but people who sweat excessively seem to have a different “set point” than other people. Most people sweat when it’s hot out, or when they become warm. People with hyperhidrosis sweat excessively almost all the time.
The most obvious symptom of hyperhidrosis is feet that sweat excessively. Some people sweat so much that their feet may slip around inside their shoes! The feet may also have a whitish, wet appearance. Sometimes, foot infections are present as well. Constant wetness breaks down the skin, allowing infection to set in. Foot odor is also common. Those suffering from hyperhidrosis may also experience emotional stress and worry regarding foot odor. Sweat-related anxiety and isolation can be particularly severe among teens with plantar hyperhidrosis.
Corns & Calluses
Corns and calluses are areas of thickened skin that develop to protect that area from irritation. They occur when something rubs against the foot repeatedly or causes excess pressure against part of the foot. If the thickening of skin occurs on the bottom of the foot, it’s called a callus. If it occurs on the top of the foot (or toe), it’s called a corn.Corns and calluses are not contagious but may become painful if they get too thick. In people with diabetes or decreased circulation, they can lead to more serious foot problems.
Corns and calluses typically have a rough, dull appearance. They may be raised or rounded, and they can be hard to differentiate from warts. Corns or calluses sometimes cause pain.People with certain deformities of the foot, such as hammer toes, are prone to corns and calluses, as well as women who frequently wear high heels.
If corns or calluses are causing pain and discomfort or inhibiting your daily life in any way, see a podiatrist. Also, people with diabetes, poor circulation, or other serious illnesses should have their feet checked.
Warts are one of several soft tissue conditions of the foot that can be quite painful. They are caused by a virus and can appear anywhere on the skin. Those that appear on the sole of the foot are called plantar warts. Children, especially teenagers, tend to be more susceptible to warts than adults. Some people seem to be immune to warts.
Most warts are harmless, even though they may be painful. They are often mistaken for corns or calluses, which are layers of dead skin that build up to protect an area which is being continuously irritated. The wart, however, is a viral infection.
Plantar warts tend to be hard and flat, with a rough surface and well-defined boundaries; warts are generally raised and fleshier when they appear on the top of the foot or on the toes. Plantar warts are often gray or brown (but the color may vary), with a center that appears as one or more pinpoints of black. It is important to note that warts can be very resistant to treatment and have a tendency to reoccur.
When plantar warts develop on the weight-bearing areas of the foot (the ball of the foot, or the heel, for example), they can be the source of sharp, burning pain. Pain occurs when weight is brought to bear directly on the wart, although pressure on the side of a wart can create equally intense pain.
It is wise to consult a podiatric physician when any suspicious growth or eruption is detected on the skin of the foot in order to ensure a correct diagnosis. It is possible for a variety of more serious lesions to appear on the foot, including malignant lesions such as carcinomas and melanomas. Although rare, these conditions can sometimes be misidentified as a wart.
*Information courtesy of the American Podiatric Medical Association. www.apma.org
Psoriasis is a skin condition caused by faster-than-normal turnover of skin cells. Normally, new skin cells rise to the surface of the skin once a month; the old surface skin cells die and slough off while the new cells are moving to the surface. In people who have psoriasis, the new cells move to the surface so rapidly that the dead cells build up on the surface in dry, whitish-silver patches. Some people have mild cases of psoriasis. Others have extensive cases that affect multiple parts of the body.
If you have psoriasis on your feet or have red, irritated feet that haven’t responded to home or medical treatment, see your podiatrist. A podiatrist can also help determine the cause of reddened, itchy feet. Psoriasis can mimic severe athlete’s foot or contact dermatitis.
A podiatrist will carefully examine your feet and take a thorough medical history. He or she may also take a tiny sample (biopsy) of the affected area to confirm a diagnosis of psoriasis. Treatment depends on the severity of the disease. Mild cases of psoriasis can be treated with topical steroid creams, applied directly to the area. More severe cases of psoriasis may need systemic (whole body) treatment.