athlete’s foot (‘ath lets ‘fut): an infection on the foot caused by fungus

Athlete’s foot (known also by the medical term tinea pedis) is a common foot condition that responds well to treatment. According to Melissa Conrad Stöppler, M.D., about 70% of the population will experience athlete’s foot at some point in their lives. Runners, swimmers, and dancers are more likely to suffer from athlete’s foot, as well as people who wear shoes that are too tight (causing the toes to squish together).

Techs need to be on guard against athlete’s foot: It’s likely they will be exposed to it, it spreads easily, and it could trick techs because it can look like dry skin. Always use hospital grade disinfectant to clean implements and the foot bath before and after every client.

The fungus that causes athlete’s foot exists on floors (think locker rooms) and it spreads easily through contact. Exposure to the fungus does not guarantee its growth; conditions must be right for the fungus to spread.

The toes provide an ideal condition because they shelter moisture. Athlete’s foot is identified by dry, cracked skin, most often in the toe area. Clients may complain of burning and itching and the skin can become so irritated that it breaks open and bleeds. Often a foul odor is associated with the disease, and a thick, creamy substance can form under the nails. In advanced cases, the nails may flake, appear discolored, and become thick.

The good news is that athlete’s foot is treatable. If a client comes in with what appears to be athlete’s foot, techs can recommend a number of treatments. First, instruct the client to wash her feet daily. After washing, it’s imperative to thoroughly dry the area between the toes, which is often overlooked in our haste to dry. A medicated, over-the-counter foot powder is recommended to keep the area dry. There are also over-the-counter topical creams that can be recommended Suggest clients wear socks made of material that wicks the moisture from the skin. Shoes made of natural materials are preferred to materials that don’t allow the area to “breathe.”

In more advanced cases, symptoms appear on the soles of the feet and the heels.

In more advanced cases, symptoms appear on the soles of the feet and the heels.

If clients do not see a difference in the condition in two weeks, they should consult a doctor. The doctor will be able to prescribe an aggressive treatment, such as an antifungal cream or an antibiotic.



Most likely the tech won’t be aware a client has athlete’s foot until she is already soaking in a foot bath. Upon realizing that the foot looks infected, stay calm. Remember it’s not an indication of poor hygiene. Maintain your professionalism, but broach the topic with client. You could begin by saying something such as, “It looks like you have dry skin around your toes. Have you noticed this? Have you ever seen a doctor to determine if it’s athlete’s foot?” If the client responds that a doctor has not seen the condition, recommend the treatments listed on this page as a first step. If you’re concerned (and you should be), call her before her next appointment to check if her feet have healed, or if she has seen a doctor. You may need to refuse treatment until the condition has cleared to avoid putting other clients and yourself at risk.

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