Athlete’s Foot

What is Athlete’s Foot?

A common fungal infection of the foot, athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) is highly treatable but also highly contagious and spreadable. Affecting the outer skin of the foot, athlete’s foot can spread to adjacent toes and toenails. In some cases, it may affect hands through cross-contamination when hands come in contact with the affected foot. Fortunately, it’s an easily treatable condition that’s rarely problematic if preventative steps are taken.

Types of Athlete’s Foot

The skin rash that is characteristic of athlete’s foot can be one of three primary forms of the condition: toe web infection, vesicular infection, or moccasin-type infection. Each of these types of athlete’s foot has a different appearance.

What are the Symptoms of Athlete’s Foot?

The first sign of athlete’s foot is usually a burning or itching sensation on the affected foot. Symptoms can start as mild symptoms before the infection spreads.

Symptoms include

  • A scaly rash
  • Inflammation
  • Stinging sensations
  • Redness in the affected area

Athlete’s Foot Causes

Athlete’s Foot occurs when a fungal infection comes into contact with your foot and starts to grow on your skin. Athlete’s foot causes two types of fungus, trichophyton mentagrophytes and tricophyton rubrum. The former appears very quickly and severely, but it is easily treated; the latter is chronic and causes infections to spread. Subsequently, it is hard to treat. This same fungus is responsible for ringworm and jock itch. The fungus grows on the top layer of your skin, especially between the toes, meaning it is important that you wash between your toes frequently.

Certain risk factors may increase your chances of getting athlete’s foot, including being male, regularly wearing damp socks, walking barefoot in public places, and sharing shoes, clothes, rugs, mats or bed linens with someone who has a fungal infection.

How is Athlete’s Foot Treated?

Diagnosing and Treating Athlete’s Foot

Skin scrapings may be taken and sent for analysis to confirm that the presented fugal infection is athlete’s foot since it’s sometimes mistaken for eczema or other possible skin irritations. Similar in nature to ringworm and jock itch, athlete’s foot is often treated with over-the-counter anti-fungal medications.

Treatment includes

  • OTC anti-fungal ointments, sprays, or powders
  • Prescription-strength medications for severe infections
  • Anti-fungal pills if topical treatments fail to provide relief

Most people get athlete’s foot from exposure to the fungi on contaminated surfaces such as those found around swimming pools, spas, public showers, and other areas where water is likely to be on the ground. The risk of developing the sometimes painful irritation can be reduced by wearing comfortable shoes, making sure feet are completely dry, including in between toes, wearing shower sandals in public facilities, and wearing socks to absorb sweat.

Athlete’s Foot Prevention

You can prevent athlete’s foot infections by washing your feet with soap and water every day and then drying them thoroughly. Make sure to get in between your toes. You can also change your socks whenever your feet get sweaty, wear breathable shoes, and put anti-fungal powder on your feet regularly. Wearing sandals in public places like swimming pools, going barefoot at home, and alternating between two pairs of shoes each day can help to reduce the appearance of athlete’s foot.

Don’t share socks, shoes or towels with anyone and try to find socks that wick away moisture easily, such as those made out of cotton or wool.

You also want to make sure your athlete’s foot doesn’t turn into a complication. In some cases, the infection can spread to other parts of your body. To prevent the spread of athlete’s foot to your hands and nails, avoid picking at your infection. Be careful that you don’t spread it to your groin (jock itch); it can travel on a towel or your hands.

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Last Reviewed:
September 12, 2016
Last Updated:
March 29, 2018