What is athlete's foot?

Athlete's foot: Overview

Athlete's foot is an itchy rash on the foot caused by an infection with a fungus. You can get it by going barefoot in wet public areas, such as swimming pools or locker rooms. Many times there is no clear reason why you get athlete's foot. You can easily treat athlete's foot by putting medicine on your feet for 1 to 6 weeks. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe pills to kill the fungus.

Athlete's foot

Athlete's foot is a rash on the skin of your foot caused by a fungus. It can cause itching, peeling, and cracking on the bottoms of the feet and between the toes.

You can get it by walking barefoot on contaminated surfaces near swimming pools or in locker rooms. After you have had athlete's foot, you're more likely to get it again.

What are the symptoms of athlete's foot?

Symptoms of athlete's foot vary from person to person. Some people have severe discomfort, while others have few or no symptoms.

Common symptoms include:

  • Peeling, cracking, and scaling of the feet.
  • Redness, blisters, or softening and breakdown (maceration) of the skin.
  • Itching, burning, or both.

Your symptoms may depend on the type of athlete's foot you have.

  • Toe web infection usually occurs between the fourth and fifth toes. The skin gets scaly, peels, and cracks. If you get a bacterial infection, the skin may break down even more.
  • Moccasin-type infection may start with a little soreness on your foot. Then the skin on your sole or heel may become thick and crack. In severe cases, the toenails get infected.
  • Vesicular infection usually starts with a sudden outbreak of fluid-filled blisters. The blisters are usually on the sole but can appear anywhere on your foot. You may also get a bacterial infection.

Athlete's foot: Vesicular type

Vesicular-type athlete's foot between the toes

Athlete's foot is a fungal infection of the skin. A vesicular (blister) infection usually begins with a sudden outbreak of fluid-filled areas under the skin. The blisters most often develop on the skin of the instep but may also develop between the toes, on the heel, or on the sole or top of the foot.

How is athlete's foot treated?

Treatment for athlete's foot depends on its type and severity. Most cases can be treated at home with antifungal medicines. They kill the fungus or slow its growth. You also need to keep your feet clean and dry.

Over-the-counter antifungal lotions, creams, or sprays usually are used first. These include clotrimazole (Lotrimin) and tolnaftate (Tinactin).

Prescription antifungals may be tried if nonprescription medicines don't help. Some prescription antifungals are put directly on the skin. Others are taken as a pill.

If you have a severe infection that doesn't improve, your doctor may prescribe antifungal pills. They are used only for severe cases.

Preventing athlete's foot

You can do some things to help you avoid getting athlete's foot or having it come back.

  • Keep your feet clean and dry.
    • Dry between your toes after you swim or bathe.
    • Use an antifungal spray or foot powder that helps to absorb moisture.
  • Wear sandals or roomy shoes made of materials that allow moisture to escape.

    Allow your shoes to air-dry for at least 24 hours before you wear them again.

  • Wear socks to absorb sweat.

    Change your socks daily, or more often if wet.

  • Wear shower sandals in public pools and showers.

How is athlete's foot diagnosed?

A doctor can usually tell if you have athlete's foot by looking at your feet. He or she will also ask about your symptoms and any past fungal infections you've had. If your symptoms are unusual or treatment didn't help before, your doctor may take a skin or nail sample to test for fungi.

How can you care for your child's athlete's foot?

  • Your doctor may suggest an over-the counter lotion or spray or may prescribe a medicine. Use medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think your child is having a problem with the medicine.
  • Keep your child's feet clean and dry.
  • When your child gets dressed, have your child put socks on before his or her underwear. This can prevent the fungus from spreading from your child's feet to his or her groin.

To prevent athlete's foot

  • Have your child wear flip-flops or other shower sandals in public locker rooms and showers and by the pool.
  • Have your child dry between his or her toes after swimming or bathing.
  • Have your child wear leather shoes or sandals, which let air get to your child's feet.
  • Have your child change socks as needed so his or her feet stay as dry as possible.

How is athlete's foot spread?

You can get athlete's foot by touching the foot of a person who has it. Most often, people get it by walking barefoot on contaminated surfaces near swimming pools or in locker rooms. The fungi then grow in your shoes, especially if your shoes are tight and air can't move around your feet.

What is athlete's foot?

Athlete's foot (tinea pedis) is a rash on the skin of the foot. It's the most common skin infection caused by a fungus. Athlete's foot can cause itching, peeling, and cracking on the bottoms of the feet and between the toes.

©2011-2024 Healthwise, Incorporated

The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.