Athlete's Foot Facts
Athlete's foot refers to a fungal skin eruption that is confined to the foot, in both athletes and nonathletes. It can occur anywhere on the foot, including the sole, toe webs, and back of the foot.
"Athlete's foot" is a commonly used popular term that can refer to any skin inflammation of the foot in an athlete. While this frequently is a result of fungal infections, although this is not the strict definition of this entity.
Athlete's Foot Causes
Dermatitis affecting the foot can be caused by contact allergens, irritants, sweat and rash (intertrigo), poorly fitting shoes, psoriasis, and interdigital bacterial toe web infections, and fungal infections.
Fungi (either yeasts or molds) cause athlete's foot.
- These fungi can be contracted by sharing the shoes or socks of an infected person.
- They need a warm moist environment to flourish and can be found growing on the floors of locker rooms and public showers and in swimming pools and whirlpools.
- Athlete's foot seems to be relatively uncommon in humans who rarely wear closed shoes. It is most common is older adult males.
Athlete's Foot Symptoms and Signs
- Most commonly, athlete's foot is characterized by cracking and itchy, moist, white, scaly lesions or sores between the toes. It frequently spreads to the sole of the foot.
- Another type of athlete's foot is a dry, scaly form that causes a reddish "moccasin-like" area over the soles of the feet. This type often affects both feet.
- Less frequently, this infection may involve painful blistering lesions.
When to Seek Medical Care for Athlete's Foot
If your athlete's foot inhibits your normal daily activities, you should seek medical attention. If it does not bother you and is only a cosmetic annoyance, then a visit to a medical professional may not be necessary.
A simple fungal infection such as athlete's foot can become "super-infected" with bacteria. If this should happen, the rash will become increasingly painful and red. Your foot may become swollen, and you may develop blisters and even open sores in the infected area. These are indications that you may need oral antibiotics and will need to call your doctor.
It is unlikely that athlete's foot would ever become severe enough that a trip to a hospital's emergency department is required. However, if you have diabetes or any other type of illness that will make it hard for your body to fight off an infection, athlete's foot may become a more serious skin problem.
If you develop severe pain, redness, or swelling, notice a pus-like drainage, see large blisters on your foot, or if you develop a fever, you should be seen as soon as possible by your doctor.
How you treat athlete's foot(tinea pedis) depends on its type and severity. Most cases of athlete's foot can be treated at home using an antifungal medicine to kill the fungusor slow its growth.
- Nonprescription antifungalsusually are used first. These include terbinafine(Lamisil AT), miconazole (Micatin), clotrimazole(Lotrimin AF), and tolnaftate (Tinactin). Nonprescription antifungals are applied to the skin (topical medicines).
- Prescription antifungals may be tried if nonprescription medicines are not successful or if you have a severe infection. Some of these medicines are topical antifungals, which are put directly on the skin. Examples include naftifine (Naftin), butenafine (Mentax), and clotrimazole. Prescription antifungals can also be taken as a pill, which are called oral antifungals. Examples of oral antifungals include terbinafine (Lamisil), itraconazole(Sporanox), and fluconazole(Diflucan).
Diagnosis of Athlete's Foot
The accurate diagnosis of athlete's foot can usually be made simply by looking at the rash. The diagnosis can also be confirmed by looking at scrapings of the infected area of the foot under a microscope. The doctor will see microscopic fungal elements on the slide.
If the doctor suspects a secondary bacterial infection, he will prescribe the proper antibiotic.
Home Remedies for Athlete's Foot
- Many over-the-counter antifungal medications can be applied to the affected area. These creams should be used sparingly but regularly, at least once a day. An application the size of a chocolate chip should be adequate to cover the entire bottom of your foot.
- It is important to keep your feet clean and dry. Wear clean, absorbent socks made of natural fibers, such as cotton, and change them during the day if your feet become moist or sweaty.
- If possible, remove the insoles of shoes and sneakers to allow them to dry out over night.
- Dusting the inside of your shoes and socks with talcum powder or a medicated powder such as Zeasorb-AF will help to decrease the moisture level.
- Alternate wearing different pairs of shoes to allow them to dry out for a day or two at a time.
- If you plan to see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of your athlete's foot, it would be desirable to stop using any antifungal medication for at least two weeks as it could inhibit an accurate diagnosis.
Medications and Treatment for Athlete's Foot
Over-the-counter antifungal creams are sufficient for treating most cases of athlete's foot. Apply them as directed to the toes and foot. Common brands include clotrimazole (Lotrimin) and terbinafine (Lamasil) (Lamasil).
If the topical antifungal medications do not clear up the infection, your doctor may prescribe an oral antifungal medication.
If you are unsure of your diagnosis and/or you plan to visit a physician within the next month, the application of 1% hydrocortisone cream purchased over the counter would be a reasonable therapeutic tactic. Since many of the causes of foot dermatosis are not infections, they may respond to this medication. Moreover, it will enhance your doctor's ability to find fungal organism should they be the cause.
Prevention of Athlete's Foot
Simple precautions may help.
Wear sandals in public locker rooms and swimming areas.
Do not wear someone else's shoes, especially if that person has athlete's foot.
Thoroughly clean home showers and floors where family members walk barefooted to avoid spreading the fungus.
Prognosis of Athlete's Foot
Most cases of athlete's foot go away within a few weeks. More severe cases may take a month or even longer.
Reviewed on 11/20/2017
Medically reviewed by Norman Levine, MD; American Board of Dermatology
Field, Leslie A., Brian B. Adams. "Tinea Pedia in Athletes." International Journal of Dermatology. 47 (2008): 485-492.
Wyndham, Mike. "Diagnostic Pitfalls of Plantar Dermatoses." The Practitioner. July 1997: 420.