Tinea: Common Types, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

What is Tinea?

Tinea or athlete’s foot. is a common fungal infection which thrives in a warm, moist environment on the human body. Tinea is picked up in communal areas such as gyms, showers, change rooms etc. Tinea Pedis reportedly affects up to 70% of the population and its prevalence tends to increase with age. Most people who experience tinea pedis will notice redness, dry and itchy skin on their feet, often between the toes. It often affects both feet and is easily contracted. Thankfully, tinea pedis is usually quite easy to control and treat.

What are the known types of tinea?

Tinea can affect many different areas of the body, each part of the body is affected by a different variety of tinea. Each of these are explored below;

Tinea Pedis – Tinea Pedis is the variety of tinea that affects the feet. It is often referred to as Athlete’s Foot and appears like a red rash – dry, itchy and often flakey skin. Infection may spread to the nails, which is referred to as Onychomycosis.

Tinea unguium – This variety is called onychomycosis and can affect both the finger and toe nails. This is a very common type of tinea and often affects people who have a weakened immune system.

Tinea manuum – This variety of tinea is sometimes referred to as ringworm and presents as an itchy red rash on the hands. This condition is often misdiagnosed as dermatitis of the skin and is much less common than tinea pedis.

Tinea cruris – This variety of tinea is called jock itch and affects the groin and inner thighs.

Tinea corporis – Also typically referred to as ringworm, this variety can affect all parts of the body. This variety of tinea is very common in athletes or people who are overweight. 

Tinea capitis – Known as scalp ringworm, this variety of tinea is specific to the scalp and has been known to cause hair loss, dryness, scaly and itchy skin. 

What causes tinea?

Moving our attention to Tinea Pedis (affecting the foot). Tinea is an infection of the skin caused by a fungus. It can be picked up by coming directly in contact with someone affected or by coming in contact with an affected surface, as mentioned above (gyms, showers, swimming pools and locker rooms/change rooms).

Who is at risk of tinea?

Who is at a high risk of contracting tinea pedis? Tinea Pedis can affect anyone, but is most commonly found among people who play a lot of sport. The fungus tends to thrive in moist, warm environments. If you practice good hygiene you are less likely to contract the fungal infection.

What are the symptoms of tinea?

The symptoms of tinea pedis will vary from person to person, but usually include; redness, appearing much like a rash, itchy skin and flaking skin. Sometimes people experience blistering, cracking and peeling of the affected skin. If you think you are suffering these symptoms it is best to visit your Podiatrist immediately for treatment. 

How is tinea treated?

Before treating tinea, it is important that the condition is diagnosed by a health professional (your Podiatrist) to ensure it is treated correctly and effectively. Your Podiatrist will be able to tell you if you are suffering from tinea – sometimes they may take a swab or scraping of your skin and send it away for a clinical diagnosis. Once the tinea has been diagnosed it is usually treated with an over the counter medication first. If this is ineffective after a 2 week period, you may need a prescription medication.  It is also worth considering seeing a Naturopath who can offer a more natural approach if desired. 

What OTC medications are used to treat tinea?

Over the counter medications are available to treat tinea pedis, these include; miconazole (Desenex), terbinafine (Lamisil AT), clotrimazole (Lotrimin AF or Canesten), butenafine (Lotrimin Ultra), tolnaftate (Tinactin).

For most people affected by tinea pedis, over the counter medications work quite well. However, if you do not see changes your podiatrist may recommend a prescription antifungal medication.

What prescription medications are used to treat tinea?

There are a few different prescription medications that may be used to treat tinea pedis, these include;

  • Antibiotics – If there is a secondary bacterial infection present, antibiotics may be prescribed to combat the infection. 
  • Topical creams such as clotrimazole or miconazole – These are a prescription strength variety of the over the counter medications mentioned above. 
  • Oral antifungal medications – These include; itraconazole, fluconazole and terbinafine.

Prescription medications are usually only used for tinea pedis when over the counter medications are unsuccessful.

How can you avoid getting a tinea infection?

Here are our best tips for avoiding the spread of tinea pedis/Athlete’s foot;

  • General hygiene – Ensure regular showers, paying close attention to the feet.
  • Change your socks regularly – If you tend to sweat a lot, even change your socks during the day to avoid that warm, moist environment.
  • Wear thongs or sandals in public showers/change rooms – Never go barefoot in communal areas.
  • Wash your clothing/bedding in a Canesten wash to eliminate the fungus in your household. It has been proven that the spores can live in clothing and bedding for extended periods of time. 
  •  Avoid sharing clothes or shoes – As we know, tinea is easily transferred through clothing, so best to ensure you aren’t sharing with others.
  • Avoid direct contact with anyone who may be infected with tinea pedis.
  • You can continue to use your topical antifungal treatment once the condition has resolved, this has been proven to prevent reoccurance. 

What are some complications of having tinea?

For the majority of people, tinea pedis doesn’t present with severe complications, however there are some exceptions.

If a secondary bacterial infection occurs there may be blistering, swelling, pus and even fever. There are also cases of allergic reactions to the fungus, which can also result in blistering of the skin. 

There have also been incidences where the infection spreads to the lymph nodes. 

What can your Podiatrist do to help?

If you are experiencing any of these signs and symptoms and think you have tinea pedis or athlete’s foot, your podiatrist can help! During your consult you podiatrist will do a thorough examination of your skin, as well as a thorough history of your symptoms and determine whether you are suffering from tinea. They will then be able to advise you on what treatments will be best for you condition.

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