Athlete's Foot: Causes and Treatment

Athlete’s foot is a common foot fungal infection. Also known as ringworm and dermatophytosis, the condition spreads easily in public places, such as common showers, locker rooms, and fitness centres.


Athlete’s foot usually affects the spaces between the toes but can also spread to the toe nails and soles and sides of the feet.

Athlete's Foot Causes

A group of mold-like fungi called dermatophytes causes athlete’s foot (tinea pedis). These organisms infect the superficial layer of the skin, which becomes thick and scaly in response to the fungal growth.

Risk Factors

Thick, tight shoes that pinch the toes and create warm, moist areas as a result of sweating, which lead to a foot fungal infection
Damp socks and shoes
Plastic shoes with little ventilation
Persons with weakened immune systems from conditions such as diabetes or HIV/AIDS
Men are more likely than women to develop athlete’s foot
Crowded public areas, such as locker rooms, saunas, swimming pools, fitness centres, and public showers, are common athlete's foot causes

Athlete’s Foot Symptoms

The symptoms of athlete’s foot include:
Itching, stinging and burning between the toes or soles
Cracking and peeling skin, especially between the toes and on the soles of the feet, or excessive dryness of the skin on the bottom or sides of the feet
Nails that are thick, crumbly, ragged, discoloured, or pulling away from the nail bed
Itchy blisters or thickened skin


Detailed history and physical examination to exclude other skin disorders, such as dermatitis or psoriasis
Microscopic examination of skin scrapings or fluid samples from the foot
Sampling if there is doubt in diagnosis or if there is no response to conventional athlete’s foot treatment


Secondary bacterial infection that can cause tissue breakdown, resulting in soggy skin and painful eroded areas between the toes
Dermatophytoid reaction — after an episode of athlete’s foot, proteins might enter the bloodstream leading to an allergic reaction that may cause an eruption of blisters on fingers, toes or hands

Athlete’s Foot Treatment

Most foot fungal infections respond well to ointments that include:

If there is a secondary bacterial infection, doctors may prescribe antibiotics for tinea pedis treatment. This may involve wet dressings, steroid ointments, compresses, or vinegar soaks to help clear up blisters or soggy skin.

Prevention Tips

Keep your feet dry, especially between the toes
Go barefoot to let your feet dry as much as possible when you are at home
Wear socks that are made of a natural material, such as cotton, wool, or a synthetic fibre designed to draw moisture away from your feet
Change your socks and stockings regularly
Wear light, well-ventilated shoes and do not borrow shoes from others as it increases the risk of the infection spreading
Avoid shoes made of synthetic materials, such as vinyl, rubber, or plastic
Alternate your shoes and protect your feet in public places
Wear waterproof sandals or shower shoes in pools, fitness centres, and other public areas
Getting early and appropriate treatment for signs of athlete’s foot


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