Tinea can be easily contracted through skin-to-skin contact with an infected person or animal, or through indirect contact with an object or surface that an infected person or animal has touched. Bathroom floors, bathmats, towels, showers and communal bathing, swimming and changing room areas are common sources of infection.
On contact with your skin, the dermatophyte fungi spread to the surface layers of dead cells – they generally do not invade living skin cells. Symptoms result from the body’s allergic and inflammatory response to the infection, and they usually appear within four to 10 days.
Symptoms of athlete's foot or tinea pedis can include:
Less common is ‘moccasin-type’ tinea pedis, which involves the sole of the foot and usually appears as dry, scaly patches or cracks in the skin. These may extend up onto the side of the foot in a moccasin-style pattern.
Not all skin changes that look like tinea are in fact tinea, so it is important to have them checked if they do not clear up quickly. While rare, it is possible for melanoma skin cancers beneath the nail to grow unchecked, and other skin conditions can be mistaken for tinea.
People with diabetes or long term conditions that require immune-suppressing drugs (e.g. after kidney transplant) are more at risk from tinea and other infections. These people should always seek advice from their doctor for unusual looking skin changes. Older people and those with diabetes, swollen legs or suppressed immunity can also find the broken skin, caused by tinea, can become infected by other bacteria as well, causing inflammation and a more serious problem called cellulitis.
Medicines for tinea can be bought from a pharmacy or be prescribed by your doctor. It is important to follow the instructions on the pack carefully. Some products need a single application only; others need regular application until one or two weeks after the infection has cleared, to prevent recurrence. If the infection has not gone away by the time you have finished the course of treatment, or it is getting worse, visit your doctor.
Once your tinea has cleared up, you should try to avoid a recurrence by:
Tinea pedis (athletes foot) DermNet NZ, 2013
Ringworm and tinea infection - a patient's guide Family Doctor NZ, 2015