Athlete's foot is a fungal infection that typically occurs on the feet. The infection is common among people who exercise or play sports. Anyone can get athlete's foot.
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Fungus thrives in warm, dark, moist places, such as the inside of a shoe, locker rooms, showers, and swimming pools. Your bare feet come in contact with the fungus when you walk through a contaminated area. The fungus will grow if your feet or the area between your toes stays slightly wet.
Risk factors that increase your chances of getting athlete's foot include:
Athlete's foot symptoms usually start between the toes. It may spread to the soles or arches of the feet or to the toenails if the infection continues.
Symptoms often occur together and may include:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam. The doctor may scrape a small sample from the infected skin and look at it under the microscope. Infections caused by bacteria may cause symptoms similar to bacteria caused by a fungus. Other conditions may also look like athlete's foot. A definitive diagnosis is important for successful treatment.
Treatment aims to rid the body of the infection. Therapy may include good foot hygiene or medication. Many over-the-counter antifungal medications are available. Get medical care if the infection lasts for two weeks or more.
Over-the-counter topical antifungals may be helpful. You should consult with your doctor if you don't see any improvement within two weeks of trying them. Prescription topical or oral medications may be more effective. The doctor may prescribe an antifungal medication to be taken by mouth or applied to the feet. Be sure to tell your doctor about any other medical problems you may have had, such as liver or kidney disease, or diabetes.
It is important to continue taking any prescribed medication for the entire time instructed by the doctor. Do not stop any medication without the doctor's approval. Treatment generally lasts 4-8 weeks. Shortening the treatment plan often results in another infection. Wash your hands after applying topical medications.
Topical medications include:
Griseofulvin is a prescription oral medication. Other oral drugs may also be prescribed.
Preventing athlete's foot can be difficult. Keeping your feet clean and dry will help. Suggestions include:
American Academy of Dermatology
American Podiatric Medical Association
Canadian Podiatric Medical Association
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
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Pickering LK. AAP 2000 Red Book: Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases . 25th ed. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2000.
Pleacher MD, Dexter WW. Cutaneous fungal and viral infections in athletes. Clinics in Sports Medicine . 2007;26(3).
Tanaka K, Katoh T, Irimajiri J, Taniguchi H, Yokozeki H. Preventive effects of various types of footwear and cleaning methods on dermatophyte adhesion. Journal of Dermatology . 2006;33(8):528-536.
Tinea infections: athlete's foot, jock itch and ringworm. Am Fam Physician . 1998 Jul 1;58(1):177-178. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/980700ap/980700b.html . Accessed November 9, 2012.
Woodfolk JA. Allergy and dermatophytes Clin Microbiol Rev . 2005;18:30-43.
Last reviewed December 2013 by David L Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 1/13/2014