Athlete's Foot

Athlete's foot is a skin infection caused by a fungus. It affects the soles of the feet and the spaces between the toes.


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Tinea pedis

What Is Athlete's Foot?

The human body is home to many different kinds of fungi. Most never cause a problem. Athlete's foot is caused by one group of fungi called dermatophytes (der-MA-to-fites), which are microorganisms * that live on the skin, hair, and nails. Dermatophytes need a warm, moist environment to survive and to reproduce, like the feet of athletes, for example. But, in fact, anyone with wet or sweaty feet may be prone to getting athlete's foot. Athlete's foot is also called tinea pedis (TIN-e-a PED-is), or ringworm of the foot.

How Do People Get Athlete's Foot?

Athlete's foot is somewhat contagious * , and the most common places where people catch it are also the dampest ones: public showers, pool areas, wet towels, and bath mats. People who wear the same shoes or sneakers all the time are more likely to develop athlete's foot, as are people who wear shoes or socks made from certain synthetic * materials such as rubber, vinyl, or nylon. Anything that keeps the feet warm, wet, and sweaty gives the fungus an opportunity to grow and survive.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Athlete's Foot?

Athlete's foot is a condition with very specific symptoms, and these symptoms can be mild or intense, depending on the case and the person. A person with athlete's foot may feel burning and stinging on the soles of the feet and in between the toes. The skin can feel very itchy as well. The fungus causes the skin to become red, flaky, or soggy. Sometimes, the skin can become cracked.

How Do Doctors Diagnose and Treat Athlete's Foot?


When examining a patient with athlete's foot, a doctor will usually have an easy time making a diagnosis, because the fungi that cause skin problems are usually easy to recognize. Just to be sure, the doctor may take a small scraping of skin to gather some of the fungus. The fungus can then be cultured, or grown, in a small dish in a laboratory. This gives the doctor an opportunity to identify the fungus, if present.


Most cases of athlete's foot can be cured with antifungal creams or sprays, which are put directly on the skin to kill the fungus. Many of these creams and sprays are available without a prescription at drugstores. If athlete's foot persists, doctors may prescribe stronger antifungal creams than those available over the counter or possibly an antifungal medication to be taken orally. If a bacterial infection has developed along with the fungal infection, then the doctor may also prescribe an antibiotic to kill the bacteria.

* microorganisms are living organisms that can only be seen using a microscope. Examples of microorganisms are fungi, bacteria, and viruses.

* contagious means transmittable from one person to another.

* synthetic means produced artificially or chemically rather than grown naturally.

How Do People Prevent Athlete's Foot?

People who tend to get athlete's foot can do some simple things to help prevent it. The most important step is to keep the feet as dry as possible, because the fungi that cause athlete's foot do not like dry places. Taking a few extra minutes to dry feet thoroughly after showering, bathing, and swimming can help a lot. Other methods of prevention include:

  • Wearing sandals and avoiding bare feet around a pool area or a public shower
  • Wearing shoes that are well ventilated, such as sneakers with small holes on their tops or sides to let air in and out
  • Wearing shoes and sneakers made of leather rather than of synthetic materials such as vinyl and nylon
  • Wearing cotton or wool socks rather than polyester socks
  • If possible, not wearing the same pair of shoes or sneakers every day, as switching between pairs gives shoes a chance to dry out after being worn.

Those people who are particularly prone to athlete's foot may find they can keep the fungi away by using antifungal powders on their feet every day.

See also
Fungal Infections


American Podiatric Medical Association, 9312 Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda, MD 20814. The American Podiatric Medical Association has a foot care information center and publishes Your Feet: An Owner's Manual and other public education materials.
Telephone 800-366-8227 or 800-foot-care

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