Our Health Library information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Please be advised that this information is made available to assist our patients to learn more about their health. Our providers may not see and/or treat all topics found herein.
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.
How do you get it?
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 are the symptoms?
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.
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 is it 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.
How can you care for athlete's foot?
You can usually treat athlete's foot at home by using nonprescription medicines and taking care of your feet. But if you have diabetes and get athlete's foot, or if you have infections that are severe or long-lasting or that keep coming back, see your doctor.
Here are some things you can do to help treat and prevent athlete's foot.
- Use nonprescription antifungal medicines.
- These include clotrimazole (Lotrimin), miconazole (Micatin), terbinafine (Lamisil), and tolnaftate (Tinactin).
- These medicines are creams, lotions, solutions, gels, sprays, ointments, swabs, or powders that you put on the skin (topical medicine). Treatment lasts from 1 to 6 weeks.
- To prevent athlete's foot from coming back, use the full course of all medicine as directed, even after symptoms have gone away.
- Avoid using hydrocortisone cream.
Don't use this type of cream on a fungal infection, unless your doctor prescribes it.
- Soak your foot in Burow's solution.
If you have a vesicular (blister) infection, soak your foot in Burow's solution several times a day. Do this for 3 or more days until the blister fluid is gone. After the fluid is gone, use an antifungal cream as directed. You can also apply compresses using Burow's solution.
- Keep your feet clean and dry.
- Dry between your toes after you swim or bathe.
- Wear shoes or sandals that allow your feet to breathe.
- Wear socks to absorb sweat. Change your socks daily, or more often if wet.
- Use an antifungal spray or foot powder that helps to absorb moisture.
- Let your shoes air out for at least 24 hours before you wear them again.
- Wear shower sandals.
Wear them in public pools and showers.
- Avoid spreading athlete's foot to other parts of your body.
- If you have athlete's foot, dry your groin area before you dry your feet after bathing.
- Put on your socks before your underwear. This can prevent fungi from spreading from your feet to your groin. Fungi in the groin can cause jock itch.
Current as of: November 15, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Patrice Burgess MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine
Ellen K. Roh MD - Dermatology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.