Athlete's foot is a common skin infection. It affects the skin between the toes and soles of the feet.
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Athlete's foot is caused by fungus. Fungus thrives in warm, dark, moist places. Most common are inside a shoe, locker rooms, showers, and swimming pool areas. The fungus from a floor, mat, rug, shoe, or towel can pass to your feet with contact. You can also get athlete's foot if you come into contact with fungus on someone else's feet. Once the fungus is on your skin it can grow. It grows best in moist area, like those between your toes.
Factors that may increase your chances of athlete's foot include:
- A history of athlete's foot infection
- Walking barefoot in locker rooms or public places
- Not keeping your feet clean and dry
- Wearing air-tight or poorly ventilated shoes or boots
- Sweaty feet
- Hot, humid weather
- Disorders of the immune system
Athlete's foot symptoms usually start in the skin 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:
- Dry skin
- Itching (with or without burning), which gets worse as the infection spreads
- A white, wet surface
- Blisters, which may open and become painful
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and past health. 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 area. The sample will be examined under the microscope to look for fungus or other problems.
Treatment will get rid of the infection and prevent it from spreading. Options includes the following:
Take proper care of your feet:
- Gently wash your feet often (at least daily) with soap and water. Completely dry all areas, especially between the toes.
- Put a dusting of antifungal foot powder on your feet or in your shoes to absorb moisture.
- Change your shoes and socks often.
- Wash your hands after treating your feet.
Avoid walking barefoot in public, especially in locker rooms and public showers. This will stop the infection from spreading to others.
Antifungal medicine is the main treatment. Most are available over-the-counter as creams you apply to the skin. A prescription may be needed for athletes foot that does not improve with treatment or that keeps coming back. Treatment may last 1 to 2 months. It is important to take medicine as advised to completely rid of the infection.
To help reduce your chance of athlete's foot:
- Wear shower shoes or sandals in locker rooms, public showers, and around swimming pools.
- Keep your feet clean and dry, especially between your toes.
- Wear shoes that are comfortable and allow your feet to breathe.
- Wear cotton socks that pull moisture away from your skin.
- Change socks regularly, especially if they become damp.
- Do not borrow other people's shoes.
- If you have diabetes, follow your doctor's instructions for taking care of your feet and get them examined regularly.
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: http://www.apma.org/files/ProductPDFs/Athlete%E2%80%99s_Foot.pdf. Accessed February 12, 2019.
Ely JW, Rosenfeld S Stone MS. Diagnosis and management of tinea infections. Am Fam Physician. 2014;90(10):702-711.
Tinea pedis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116474/Tinea-pedis. Updated November 3, 2015. Accessed February 12, 2019.
Last reviewed February 2019 by Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD Last Updated: 2/12/2019