5 Common Foot Rashes for Student Athletes

November 6, 2020

Woman scratches rash on feet

Most people have heard of athlete’s foot, and while this is a very common type of foot rash, it’s not the only form of rash your student athlete may be contending with. In this blog, Dr. Russell Peckham of U.S. Dermatology Partners in Cedar Park, Texas, walks through the five most common types of foot rashes for student athletes and makes treatment recommendations. According to Dr. Peckham, “The majority of rashes on feet, especially for students who participate in school sports, will be athlete’s foot, but before you start treating this condition, you want to make sure the rash doesn’t have a different underlying cause since the best treatments for these conditions can be significantly different.”

1 – Athlete’s Foot

The medical name for athlete’s foot is tinea pedis. This type of rash on the feet is the result of an infection of the Trichophyton fungus that consumes old skin cells on the surfaces of the body. The rash typically starts between toes and spreads to the soles of the feet. According to Dr. Peckham, “Athlete’s foot got its name because the fungus that causes this condition thrives in warm, damp places where athletes often place their feet like pools, public shower rooms, gym floors, and sweaty shoes.

How Would I Get Athlete’s Foot?

The fungus is usually transferred from person to person in locker rooms and other areas where multiple people walk barefoot. It’s always best to wear flip flops or water shoes to protect feet when walking in these areas.

In addition to transferring between individuals, the fungus is more likely to grown and spread if athletes are sweating excessively without cleaning feet, they keep feet damp or in sweaty socks for an extended time, or they wear shoes or socks that don’t allow sweat and moisture to be pulled away from the body.

What are the Common Symptoms of Athlete’s Foot?

Common symptoms of athlete’s foot include:

  • Itchiness that usually affects the soles of the feet and the spaces between toes. This symptom may be most severe right after removing shoes and socks
  • Red rash in the areas that are itching
  • In its onset, athlete’s foot can cause painful blistering
  • Chronic cases of athlete’s foot can cause thickening of the skin (called scaling) that might be mistaken for dryness or eczema
  • Stinging and burning may occur, especially in more advanced cases
  • Brittle or discolored toenails

How Is Athlete’s Foot Treated?

It’s always best to treat athlete’s foot at the earliest signs, using a topical, over the counter anti-fungal cream, powder, or spray. When treated earlier, discomfort is minimized and the rash usually clears up very quickly. Topical hydrocortisone creams may be used to help with itching and inflammation. For more severe cases or mild cases that don’t resolve within a few weeks, you may need to take a prescription-strength oral anti-fungal in addition to applying prescription or over the counter topical treatments.

Dr. Peckham says, “It’s important that you avoid scratching feet and take care when applying medications and cleaning and drying feet as tinea pedis can spread to hands and nails. In addition to spreading to hands, athlete’s foot is caused by the same fungus that causes jock itch, so avoid using the same washcloth or towel to clean or dry your groin and feet or take care to clean and dry feet last before placing the towel or washcloth into the laundry.”

For individuals with diabetes, it’s important to seek professional treatment for athlete’s foot. Diabetics have a significantly higher risk of developing secondary bacterial infections. If you notice redness, inflammation, draining wounds on feet, or fever, seek medical attention immediately.

Symptoms of athlete’s foot usually begin to diminish quickly within a few days of starting treatment, but they can be very unpleasant. Take the following steps to minimize the side effects of tinea pedis:

  • Thoroughly dry feet after bathing, showering, or swimming, taking special care to dry the skin between the toes
  • At home, go barefoot when possible, without exposing others to athlete’s foot, to allow the skin to breathe and stay dry
  • Change socks anytime they feel damp
  • Wear lightweight, breathable shoes
  • Don’t wear the same shoes every day. Alternate to allow the shoes to fully dry between uses
  • Wear shoes, sandals, or water shoes in public spaces to protect your feet from reexposure and avoid spreading athlete’s foot to others
  • Don’t share items that come into contact with the fungus (shoes, towels, socks, etc.)

2 – Eczema & Dermatitis

According to Dr. Peckham, “Eczema is actually an umbrella term used to describe a number of different types of rash-producing skin conditions. When it appears on the feet, this rash condition is likely either dyshidrotic eczema or contact dermatitis.”

How Would I Get Dyshidrotic Eczema?

This condition produces itchy blisters that impact the palms of hands and soles of feet. Dyshidrotic eczema is more common for women, and it usually develops during the spring and summer allergy seasons. Individuals may also be at risk for developing this condition if they consume or come into contact with nickel, cobalt, or chromium.

What are the Common Symptoms of Dyshidrotic Eczema?

Dyshidrotic eczema symptoms may last for several weeks and include:

  • Large, deep blisters on palms of hands and soles of feet as well as between the toes and fingers
  • Redness and itching skin around the blisters
  • Thick, dry, scaly skin that may crack and flake as blisters begin to dry out
  • Inflammation and tenderness of the skin on and around the blisters

How is Dyshidrotic Eczema Treated?

As is the case with other forms of eczema, there is no cure for dyshidrotic eczema, but your dermatologist can help you develop a treatment and maintenance plan to address the most common symptoms. Some treatment options may include:

  • Topical steroids – Prescription or over the counter products may be applied to help with itch and inflammation.
  • Moisturizing – Eczema is a condition that causes damage to the protective skin barrier, applying moisturizer regularly will help to repair this damaged skin.
  • Soaking feet – Using cool water and colloidal oatmeal can help to relieve itch.
  • Hyperhidrosis treatment – Dyshidrotic eczema may be exacerbated by excessive sweating conditions, so treating these with topical antiperspirants or Botox injections can help.
  • Calcineurin inhibitors – A topical ointment that suppresses the immune response to relieve inflammation and itching.
  • Phototherapy – A controlled amount of UVA/B rays are applied to relieve the symptoms of the rash.

How Would I Get Contact Dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis is an allergic reaction. It can be difficult to identify the allergen responsible for the reaction, so patch testing by a dermatologist can be helpful.

What are the Symptoms of Contact Dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis symptoms may last for several weeks and include:

  • Extremely itchy skin on the balls of the feet, heels, and bottom of toes
  • Red rash and skin inflammation
  • Bumps or blisters on affected skin

How is Contact Dermatitis Treated?

According to Dr. Peckham, “The first treatment step for contact dermatitis is likely the most obvious. Patients should avoid contact with whatever has caused the allergic reaction, so the condition doesn’t become worse. In most cases, simply avoiding whatever caused the dermatitis reaction will clear up the rash within a few weeks.” As the red rash clears up, you can use an oral or topical antihistamine as well as corticosteroid creams to relieve the itch and reduce inflammation. Cold compresses and cool foot soaks can also be used to relieve symptoms.

3 – Hand, Foot & Mouth Disease

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a highly contagious coxsackievirus and enterovirus infection that can cause rashes on hands and feet. This condition is most common in infants and children, but it can be contracted by anyone.

How Would I Get Hand, Foot & Mouth Disease?

This infection is caused by coming into contact with an enterovirus or coxsackievirus, and it is highly contagious. Parents often develop this infection when caring for children with hand, foot, and mouth disease. The virus is found in any bodily fluids of an infected person and can live on clothing and other surfaces touched by infected people. This condition can be spread by:

  • Close contact with or touching an infected person
  • Touching surfaces or objects that have the virus present
  • Inhaling air when aerated virus particles are present

What are the Symptoms of Hand, Foot & Mouth Disease?

Most people who develop this condition first experience general flu-like symptoms, including loss of appetite, fever, sore throat, and tiredness. After a few days, the rash on the feet and hands will develop. In some cases, the red rash worsens, causing painful blisters on the feet and hands. The foot rash is usually painful and may feel like it’s burning or tingling, but it doesn’t usually itch. Typically, these increasing symptoms are accompanied by mouth and tongue sores, difficulty eating or swallowing, and general discomfort in the mouth and throat. It’s important to note that some people with hand, foot, and mouth disease are asymptomatic carriers, but they can still spread the viral infection to others.

How is Hand, Foot & Mouth Disease Treated?

As is the case with many viral infections, there is not one specific treatment to cure hand, foot, and mouth disease. Instead, treatment options will address the common symptoms of this condition for the one to two weeks it takes for the condition to clear the body. Taking over the counter pain relievers to reduce discomfort and control fever is typically the best treatment for hand, foot, and mouth disease. You can drink cool water to help soothe the throat and mouth sores. There are also numbing mouthwashes and sprays available that will help if mouth sores become very painful.

4 – Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the skin. It can actually enter any part of the body through a break in the skin’s protective barrier, but it commonly affects the bottom part of the legs and the feet.

How Would I Get Cellulitis?

Cellulitis is an infection caused by the streptococcal bacteria. This bacteria can enter the body through a cut, scrape, broken cuticle, or other damage to the skin, including ingrown toenails.

What are the Symptoms of Cellulitis?

There are numerous symptoms of cellulitis, including:

  • Painful, red rash at the site of infection
  • Swollen or inflamed skin
  • Skin that feels feverish or warm to the touch
  • Skin that’s sensitive or painful
  • Dimples or pitting in the skin
  • Blisters or sores on the skin
  • General infection symptoms – fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, etc.

How Is Cellulitis Treated?

Unfortunately, cellulitis symptoms can develop very quickly, and without proper treatment, this condition can be life-threatening. In most cases, oral antibiotics are prescribed to address the infection.

5 – Scabies

Scabies are mites that burrow beneath the top layers of skin, consume skin cells to survive, and lay eggs, causing skin irritation and rash. Scabies mites are microscopic, so you won’t be able to see the mites on your skin. After contact with these mites, you may notice developing symptoms up to eight weeks later. As the infestation develops, scabies are contagious.

How Would I Get Scabies?

You can contract scabies by coming into contact with someone who has scabies or by touching their clothing, towels, bedding, and even furniture.

What are the Symptoms of Scabies?

The most noticeable symptom of scabies is an extremely itchy red rash. Additional signs that your rash is scabies and not one of the other common types of foot rash include:

  • Small pimple-like blisters
  • Scaly skin, which thick and crusty patches around the infestation site
  • Intense itching that may interrupt sleep

How is Scabies Treated?

Unlike other causes of foot rash, scabies is not treatable with over the counter medications. You’ll need a diagnosis and prescription treatment from your dermatologist. In most cases, this starts with a topical ointment to kill the scabies mites and their eggs. In addition to treating the affected area, you’ll also need to disinfect all clothing, linens, bedding, furniture, or other fabrics that you’ve been in contact with. Anyone who lives in the home or otherwise has close contact with the person who has scabies should also disinfect their homes and monitor skin for signs of scabies.

Bonus – Other Conditions that Cause Foot Rash

In addition to these five common causes of a rash on the feet, other common reasons for foot rash include:

  • Contact with poison ivy, oak, and sumac – These plants grow in various environments across the U.S., and they produce urushiol. This sap is an allergen that can cause a severe allergic reaction in between 50% and 70% of adults when it comes in contact with any part of the body, including the feet.
  • Hand-Foot Syndrome – Also called acral erythema or palmar-plantar erythrodysesthesia this condition causes painful, itching, tingling rashes on the hands and/or feet that usually occurs as a side effect of chemotherapy drugs.
  • Impetigo – A contagious bacterial infection of the skin that almost always begins with an itchy red rash and painful oozing sores around the mouth, but it’s easily spread to the hands, feet, and other parts of the body through touch.
  • Granuloma annulare – This is a chronic skin condition that has several different forms. The most common type, localized granuloma annulare, creates a rash that impacts the hands and feet. The rashes can be red, yellow, or skin-colored, and they are usually ring-shaped. Unlike other types of rash on the feet, granuloma annulare does not usually itch. This condition clears up on its own for most people.
  • Kawasaki disease – Typically, this condition develops for children under the age of 5, and it is a condition that requires urgent medical attention. In addition to a wide range of other symptoms, children with Kawasaki disease usually have red, swollen skin on their hands and feet.

When Should I Schedule an Appointment with U.S. Dermatology Partners for Rash on Feet?

When rashes on feet don’t clear up with at-home treatment, they’re severe, or they impede your ability to walk or engage in regular daily activities, you should get in touch with your dermatologist for an appointment. If you’re ready to schedule an appointment at U.S. Dermatology Partners, to address concerns with athlete’s foot and other common types of rashes on the feet, you can fill out our simple online request form. Once we receive your request, a member of our team will be in touch to finalize the details.

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