Athlete's foot is a fungal infection that typically occurs on the feet. Because the infection is common among people who exercise or play sports, it was named athlete's foot. However, anyone can experience athlete's foot.
Fungus thrives in warm, dark, moist places, such as the inside of a shoe, in locker rooms, showers, and around swimming pools. When you walk through a contaminated area, your bare feet come in contact with the fungus. If your feet or the area between your toes stays moist, the fungus will grow.
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
Risk factors include:
- Prior 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 between the toes. As the infection progresses, it may spread to the soles or arches of the feet or to the toenails.
Symptoms often occur in combination and may include:
- Dry skin
- Itching, which worsens as the infection spreads
- A white, wet surface
- Blisters, which may open and become painful
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, rather than a fungus, may cause similar symptoms. Other conditions may also mimic athlete's foot. Getting an accurate 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. However, if the infection persists for two weeks or more, seek medical care.
- Gently wash your feet often (at least daily) with soap and water, and completely dry all areas, including 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 frequently.
- Do not swim or use public locker rooms when you have an infection. This will help prevent spreading the infection to other people.
Over-the-counter topical antifungals may be helpful. But if you don’t see any improvement within two weeks of trying them, you should consult with your doctor. 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
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, even if the infected areas look better. Treatment generally lasts 4 to 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, but keeping your feet clean and dry will help. Suggestions include:
- Gently wash your feet every day using soap and water.
- Dry carefully between the toes.
- Wear shoes that are comfortable and allow your feet to breathe.
- Wear sandals in the summer.
- Change shoes often.
- Wear cotton socks that wick moisture away from your skin.
- Change socks when they become damp.
- Apply an antifungal foot powder to your feet or shoes.
- Take off your shoes and socks and walk barefoot at home when possible.
- Do not walk barefoot in damp places.
- Wear shower shoes or sandals in public locker rooms.
- Do not borrow other people's shoes.
American Academy of Dermatology
American Podiatric Medical Association
Canadian Family Physician
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American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/online/en/home.html .
American Podiatric Medical Association website. Available at: http://www.apma.org .
Pleacher MD, Dexter WW. Cutaneous Fungal and Viral Infections in Athletes. Clinics in Sports Medicine . 2007;26(3).
Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, 5th ed. Churchill Livingstone, Inc; 2000.
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):528-36.
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Last reviewed November 2008 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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