by Debra Wood, RN
Athlete's foot is a common infection that affects the skin between the toes and soles of the feet.
Athlete's foot is caused by fungus. Fungus thrives in warm, dark, moist places such as the inside of a shoe, locker rooms, showers, and swimming pool areas. The fungus can exist on a floor, mat, rug, shoe, or towel and transfer to your skin when your feet come in contact with them. You can also get athlete's foot if you come into contact with fungus on someone else's feet. The fungus can then grow on your skin if your feet or the area between your toes stays slightly wet.
Risk Factors TOP
Athlete's foot is more common in men. Other risk factors that increase your chance of athlete's foot:
Athlete's foot symptoms usually starts in the webbing between the toes. It may spread to the soles or arches of the feet, or to the toenails if the infection continues. Athlete's foot may cause:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. An exam of your feet will be done. Your doctor may suspect that you have athlete's foot based on the exam. If necessary, your doctor may scrape a small sample from the infected skin and look at it under the microscope to confirm a diagnosis.
Treatment aims to get rid of the infection and prevent it from spreading to others. Treatment steps includes the following:
Take proper care of your feet:
To prevent spreading the infection to others, avoid walking barefoot in public, especially in locker rooms and public showers.
Athlete's foot can be treated with over-the-counter antifungal medications that are applied to the skin. If you have recurrent infections, or do not see improvement in 2 weeks, your doctor may prescribe other anti-fungal medication. Treatment may last 1-2 months. It is important to take medication as advised to completely rid yourself of the infection.
To help reduce your chance of athlete's foot:
American Academy of Dermatology
Foot Health Facts—American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons
Canadian Podiatric Medical Association
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
Athletes' foot. American Podiatric Medical Association website. Available at:
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Accessed October 22, 2014.
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Pleacher MD, Dexter WW. Cutaneous fungal and viral infections in athletes. Clin Sports Med. 2007;26(3):397-411.
Tanaka K, Katoh T, et al. Preventive effects of various types of footwear and cleaning methods on dermatophyte adhesion. J Dermatol. 2006;33(8):528-536.
Weinstein A, Berman B. Topical treatment of common superficial tinea infections. Am Fam Physician. 2002;65(10):2095-2103.
Woodfolk JA. Allergy and dermatophytes. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2005;18:30-43.
Last reviewed October 2014 by David L Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 10/22/2014