Peeling skin on your child's foot is most likely a sign of athlete's foot. Although this condition is not life-threatening, it may cause discomfort and embarrassment for your child until the symptoms clear up. This condition is easily treated and will not have any long-term effects.
Athlete's foot is a fungal infection closely related to other fungal infections such as ringworm and jock itch. Athlete's foot develops in moist areas, usually between the toes and sometimes on other parts of the foot, resulting in peeling skin on the foot.
Dermatophytes, mold-like fungi, are the cause of athlete's foot. These organisms infect the superficial layer of the skin, forcing the basal skin layer to produce more skin cells than usual. As these cells come to the surface, the skin becomes scaly and thick. These fungi thrive in damp environments, such as tight shoes that squeeze toes together to create a warm area. Damp socks and shoes also help the fungi grow.
In addition to athlete's foot causing cracking and peeling skin between the toes and on the soles of the feet, it may also cause itching, stinging and burning. Itchy blisters may also form. Excessive dryness on the sides or bottoms of the foot and toenails pulling away from the nail bed are other symptoms.
Risk factors for developing peeling skin from athlete's foot include wearing damp socks and tight shoes. Sharing mats, bed linens and clothes with someone who has the infection may also cause it to spread. Visiting public pools, locker rooms, saunas and communal baths and showers will also increase your child's risk. If your child has a weakened immune system, he will also be at increased risk.
A doctor can diagnose athlete's foot by examining the foot and taking a small scraping to look for the fungus that causes athlete's foot. Most athlete's foot responds to over-the-counter medicine within a few weeks, but if that does not cure the fungi, your doctor may prescribe a topical medication or an oral medication.
To prevent a fungus infection, your child should keep her feet dry, change socks regularly, wear light, well-ventilated shoes, protect feet in public places and avoid borrowing shoes.
Peeling skin on the foot does not put your child in any immediate danger. The most common complication for your child is infection from scratching the foot. If you think your child may have athlete's foot and the condition does not improve after following treatment, your child should see a doctor. If you notice redness, swelling, drainage or fever associated with athlete's foot, call your pediatrician.