Foot eczema and athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) have similar symptoms, but require a completely different approach to treatment. The most significant difference between these two conditions is that athlete’s foot is a fungal infection, whereas eczema is an inflammatory skin condition.
You can cure athlete’s foot (ringworm of the feet), but you cannot cure foot eczema. However, the symptoms of eczema can be reduced. Eczema is usually a lifelong condition where you get flare-ups, but you can reduce the discomfort and avoid the lifestyle and dietary factors that trigger flare-ups.
Athlete’s foot can be cured in about 3-4 weeks with an antifungal cream. So, knowing the difference between foot eczema and athlete’s foot will improve your quality of life significantly.
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How to Tell Eczema and Athlete’s Foot Apart
Since eczema is a recurring skin condition, it’s necessary to know what triggers it. Eczema isn’t preventable, but there are things you can do to lower your risk of triggering an outbreak.
Athlete’s foot isn’t always preventable either, but it isn’t a condition that necessarily returns. Usually, athlete’s foot occurs when you come into contact with surfaces that are infected by the tinea fungus.
Why is Foot Eczema?
Eczema is one of the most common skin conditions. When it occurs on the feet, it can be itchy, irritating, and painful. It can become so severe that for some people, it becomes difficult to walk.
Eczema on the feet is known as Dyshidrotic eczema (Pompholyx). It shows up as blisters on the feet and hands. But other symptoms can make it clear that you have this condition.
Some of the most common symptoms of foot eczema include:
- Flaking skin
- Scaling and blisters that can crust over
- Cracking skin
Eczema can appear in different stages if it goes untreated. In the beginning, it will show itself as small red blisters. These blisters can be fluid-filled, but may not be as painful as they are in later stages. The blisters may eventually burst open and ooze liquid or pus.
The oozing of this liquid can cause the blisters to crust over. That is when the condition can become extremely painful. Because eczema can sometimes look like other skin conditions, it’s best to get an official diagnosis from a dermatologist.
What Causes Foot Eczema?
Doctors and researchers have not discovered one underlying cause of eczema. Because of that, it isn’t a curable condition. Most people who have it experience flare-ups now and then.
These flare-ups can be triggered by different things, including:
- High levels of stress
- Working with water (moist feet)
- Exposure to certain metals, like nickel, iron, and cobalt
Millions of people have eczema, and it can be triggered differently for everyone. Some people may experience outbreaks more frequently than others. Foot eczema isn’t contagious, so you don’t have to worry about catching it from other people or giving it to anyone.
Once you better understand your triggers, you can take precautions to avoid them. You may not be able to put a stop to the condition altogether. But, you can lessen your chances of an outbreak, and lower how severe it is.
Treatment for Foot Eczema
There is no cure for Dyshidrotic eczema. But it is a manageable condition. In most cases, mild cases will fade away within three weeks before returning in the future.
Eczema can cause pain, irritation, and itching. Controlling and treating those symptoms can make the condition feel less uncomfortable
Mild cases can be managed with an eczema treatment. Antihistamines, like Claritin and Benadryl, are often used to help with the symptoms of foot eczema because they reduce inflammation.
Home remedies include everything from soaking your feet to using a healing moisturizer. Keeping your feet hydrated is essential when you have eczema. If the feet become overly dry, it can cause the blisters to crack open and start to ooze.
Is Foot Eczema Serious?
Any type of skin condition on the feet can be problematic if it isn’t treated correctly.
Even though eczema can’t be cured, it should be controlled to reduce the impact on your life. The main issue with Dyshidrotic eczema is what can happen when blisters start to crack open and ooze.
Not only can the pain become severe, but it can put you at risk for other types of infection. When your skin breaks open, it’s easy for bacteria to get inside.
What is Athlete’s Foot?
Athlete’s foot usually affects the top of the feet or between the toes. It often affects people who have sweaty feet, but it’s passed on due to contact with tinea fungus-affected surfaces.
The primary symptom of athlete’s foot is a scaly rash. This rash causes itchiness and soreness between the toes. The scaling and dryness of the foot can sometimes be confused with foot eczema, but it is caused by a fungus. There is a known cause of athlete’s foot, while there isn’t for eczema.
The scaly rash of athlete’s foot (ringworm of the feet) can spread to other toes and feet. Any fungal infection that isn’t treated correctly can quickly multiply. It is also contagious.
If you have a rash on your feet or toes, and it is very itchy, you likely have athlete’s foot. An obvious symptom of athlete’s foot is if the itching intensifies right after you take off your shoes or socks.
What Causes Athlete’s Foot?
Athlete’s foot is caused by a fungal infection. Anyone who wears stuffy shoes for a prolonged period (sweaty feet) or walks barefoot in public places (public pools, locker rooms, etc.) is most at risk.
Don’t share things, like bath mats and washcloths, with roommates and family members. Because it’s so contagious, you can pass on the condition to others or get it from another person.
It can also spread to other areas of your body, including the toenails and fingernails. Athlete’s foot can cause toenail fungus (onychomycosis) and jock itch (tinea cruris).
How to Treat Athlete’s Foot
Athlete’s foot isn’t a chronic condition. You don’t contract it once and have it for life. Can it keep coming back due to your circumstances and external factors? Yes, but it isn’t a skin condition of the feet that will return for no reason if you treat it until it goes away completely.
Treatment for athlete’s foot involves the application of an antifungal agent. This can be a cream, spray, or other topical solution. Some people prefer natural solutions, such as essential oils for athlete’s foot. For severe cases, a prescription antifungal solution may be necessary.
Unfortunately, this may take upwards of a month, depending on how long you’ve let the infection go without treatment. This is why it’s important to recognize the symptoms early on. The early you start treating a fungal infection like athlete’s foot, the easier it will be to clear it up completely.
Can Athlete’s Foot be Prevented?
Like foot eczema, athlete’s foot can’t always be prevented. Even with the right precautions, it’s still possible to get tinea pedis. But there are things you can do to lower the risk of exposure.
Once you’ve determined which condition you have based on the symptoms, you can start a treatment plan. There are significant differences between foot eczema and athlete’s foot.
Athlete’s foot can be cleared up after four weeks of treatment, but you can only reduce the symptoms (and the number of flare-ups) of foot eczema. If you get eczema of the feet when you’re a child, it may go away on its own when you get older. It’s a condition that isn’t well understood medically.