What is athlete's foot?
Athlete's foot is a rash on the skin of the foot. It is the most common fungal skin infection. There are three main types of athlete's foot. Each type affects different parts of the foot and may look different.
What causes athlete's foot?
Athlete's foot is caused by a fungus that grows on or in the top layer of skin. Fungi (plural of fungus) grow best in warm, wet places, such as the area between the toes.
Athlete's foot spreads easily. You can get it by touching the toes or feet of a person who has it. But 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 so tight that air cannot move around your feet.
If you touch something that has fungi on it, you can spread athlete's foot to other people—even if you don't get the infection yourself. Some people are more likely than others to get athlete's foot. Experts don't know why this is. After you have had athlete's foot, you are more likely to get it again.
What are the symptoms?
Athlete's foot can make your feet and the skin between your toes burn and itch. The skin may peel and crack. Your symptoms can depend on the type of athlete's foot you have.
How is athlete's foot diagnosed?
Most of the time, a doctor can tell that 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 may have had. If your athlete's foot looks unusual, or if treatment did not help you before, your doctor may take a skin or nail sample to test for fungi.
Not all skin problems on the foot are athlete's foot. If you think you have athlete's foot but have never had it before, it's a good idea to have your doctor look at it.
How is it treated?
You can treat most cases of athlete's foot at home with over-the-counter lotion, cream, or spray. For bad cases, your doctor may give you a prescription for pills or for medicine you put on your skin. Use the medicine for as long as your doctor tells you to. This will help make sure that you get rid of the infection. You also need to keep your feet clean and dry. Fungi need wet, warm places to grow.
You can do some things so you don't get athlete's foot again. Wear shower sandals in shared areas like locker rooms, and use talcum powder to help keep your feet dry. Wear sandals or roomy shoes made of materials that allow moisture to escape.
Frequently Asked Questions
eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise
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