athlete's foot causes symptoms treatment and prevention

Athlete’s Foot: Complete Guide to Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Everything to know about athlete's foot and what to do about it

Athlete’s foot, also known as Tinea pedis, is a fungal infection that affects the foot’s upper skin.

It is a skin infection that is commonly associated with foot scaling, itching, redness, blistering sole, fissures of the toe web, and falling off nails.

Most people have the wrong notion that only athletes get athlete’s foot. However, anyone can contact it.

At some point, 70 percent of people will develop athlete’s foot. It is one of the most common fungal infections.

Although it is easily treatable, individuals with weak immune systems may have a few complications. 

In this article, we’ll be discussing the details of an athlete’s foot to help you understand it better. 

What is Athlete Foot 

Athlete’s foot is also known as tinea pedis, and it is a fungal infection.

It usually begins with the skin on your toes and then spreads to other areas such as the toenails and the hands.

In rare circumstances, the athlete’s foot spreads to the hands and shows the same symptoms as an infected foot.


The medical term for this condition is Tinea manuum.

Lack of proper hygiene by not washing your hands immediately after touching the infected area on your foot develops a higher risk of having tinea manuum. 

Athlete’s foot, if not properly treated, may spread to the hands, groins, and other parts of the body.

When an infected person scratches the affected area and touches other parts of the body with that same hand, the infection spreads. 

Therefore, each time you touch the affected part, you are expected to wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap. 

It is a highly contagious infection. It spreads easily in places like public pools, contaminated shower room floors, and wet surroundings. 

People who have sweaty feet in their shoes all day possess higher chances of having an athlete’s foot.

One study found out that this disease’s frequent site is the feet. It is almost as widespread as the common cold. 

Also, this infection thrives in moist, warm environments as well as sweaty shod feet of the healthy average individuals of many of the more temperate climes. 

Some of the causes of athlete’s foot include erythrasma, bacterial infection, pompholyx, intertrigo, contact allergy, and occasional psoriasis.

What are the types of athlete’s foot?

Athlete’s foot will most likely make your toes burn, itch, or even make the skin crack and peel off.

There are different types of athlete’s foot, and they show different symptoms. They include the following: 

1. Toe web infection

Toe web is usually referred to as interdigital infection by medical practitioners. This means that it occurs between the fingers or toes.

Toe web infection always starts on the skin between your fourth and fifth toes.

In some cases, the bacterial takes control and makes the fungal infection uncontrollably worse.

The likely symptom of toe web infection include: 

  • A burning sensation between your toes
  • Redness, peeling, or scaly skin with smelly discharge 
  • Also, your skin may turn green in severe conditions 

2. Moccasin type infection

Moccasin infection covers the sole of your foot. It as well spreads along your heel and up the side of your foot. 

The likely symptoms that confirm that you have a mocassin infection include:

  • Gradual soreness of the feet at the initial stage
  • Your foot gets dry, begins to thicken, and itch slightly
  • When the infection advances to your toenails, it may crumble and fall off

3. Vesicular infection

Vesicular infection is the medical term used for blisters.

It often starts with a sudden outbreak of blisters before the area becomes inflamed and red.

It is usually an aftermath of a long-lasting toe web infection. 

A vesicular infection also has the likelihood of erupting again after the first occurrence. Likely signs that show you may have a vesicular infection are:

  • It can occur anywhere on your foot.
  • In most cases, small red blisters show up in between your toes or on your soles.
  • Rashes may begin to occur and may become unbearably itchy or painful.
  • The infection is likely to get worse during the summer period.

4. Ulcerative infection

It is a rare type of athlete’s foot infection, but sometimes feet develop open sores or ulcers.

Those types of ulcers are exposed to infection by bacteria. Antibiotics act as the remedy to this infection. 

For instance, symptoms of ulcerative infection include:

  • Your sores give off discharges
  • Your skin gets inflamed and discolored
  • The infection becomes very painful

Common causes of athlete’s foot?

As you already know that anyone can be infected with athlete’s foot.

It is imperative to be fully aware of the common causes of this infection. Amongst these causes are:

1. Wearing tight and closed-toe shoes for a longer period


A study on tinea pedis shows that about 10 percent of the total population is affected by this infection simply because they wear airtight shoes.

Tinea pedis survive in moist and warm environments, and it is quite easy for them to grow there.

So, you might want to consider reducing the rate at which you put on your shoes daily.

Also, try to wear socks and shoes with enough ventilation to avoid having tinea pedis.

2. Having sweaty Feet

Having sweaty feet can be very detrimental to your health when it comes to athlete’s foot infection. 

A study in the Journal of the Medical Sciences reviewed athlete’s foot fungal infection among soccer players.

The finding showed that athletes have chances of having skin infections or complications.

This is so because athletes’ synthetic clothes and shoes retain sweats, which otherwise favors fungal development.

These fungal skin infections live and spread well in moist and warm conditions. 

Likewise, the skin layer of the feet contains a lot of keratin (a protein which hair and nails are composed of), and the fungi feed on it. 

3. Walking barefooted in public baths

Most people walk barefoot in public showers and locker rooms. Most especially the athletes’ changing room. This exposes the feet to the infection.

Research has it that sharing washing facilities is a potential promoting factor that increases the chances of contracting tinea pedis. 

Similarly, tinea pedis (athlete’s foot) incidence has been reported to be higher among people who use the community baths, public showers, and pools.

4. Minor skin or nail injury

According to research, athlete’s foot is often caused by fungi that infect the skin—a fungus named Dermatophytes

These fungi get into the skin via contact with a minor injury and infect the skin’s top layer. When these fungi get into the skin, it causes nail infection.

5. Sharing things with infected persons

Tinea pedis is an easily contagious infection. It forbids you from sharing things with infected people, be it personal or public things.

One study shows that almost everyone who uses a common dressing room, golf club, athletic club, or swimming pool has this infection on their leg.

Furthermore, it is claimed that athlete’s foot is a possible consequence of public sanitary facilities.

That is a place and situation where different kinds of people mix. Meanwhile, anyone is a potential carrier.

Related: How to Get Rid of Ingrown Toenail

Athlete’s foot symptoms

Tinea pedis starts by spreading around your toes. Then to the bottom of your feet, toenails, and hands.

The most common symptoms of athlete’s foot include: 

  • Skin dryness
  • Redness of the feet’s skin 
  • Development of scalps or blisters on the skin of the feet
  • Also, cracking and peeling of the skin on the feet
  • Burning and stinging sensation between toes and other parts of the leg
  • Itching occurs as a result of blisters occurring on the feet
  • Toenails may be removed from the nail bed

Common treatments of athlete’s foot 

Athlete’s foot often starts with a mild condition in most cases and does not need to be taken to a doctor.


Some antifungal or antibacterial medications can be bought over the counter (OTC) in some pharmacies.

And these drugs are usually effective in treating the infection. 

However, in some severe cases, a doctor may need to examine the condition of the infection.

Hence, the ideal treatment methods would be administered. Some of the common methods used in treating athlete’s foot are:

Use of antifungal medication

A doctor may have to prescribe more powerful antifungal oral medication. These medications will help to eliminate the fungus responsible for the infection. 

Antifungal medication is mostly available in: 

  • Tablet 
  • Powder 
  • Spray
  • Cream 
  • Liquid

Use of topical medication & steroid cream

Most topical medications are available over the counter at pharmacies in your neighborhood.

Most topical medication is to be applied on body surfaces such as the skin or mucous membrane to treat the infection.

And these medications are usually applied directly to your skin. These products contain certain ingredients that kill or stop the growth of these fungi.

One research found that topical antifungal medications act as a primary treatment for athlete’s feet. It is to be applied once or twice daily.

The following medications are likely to be prescribed to you by the pharmacists in these stores: 

  • Econazole 
  • Ketoconazole 
  • Sulconazole
  • Miconazole
  • Clotrimazole
  • Terbinafine

Most of these products are available and can also be purchased from an online store available in your country. 

Use of oral medication

Should in case the topical medication fails to clear out the infection, oral medications will be administered.

One study reveals the fact that oral treatment is subscribed when topical treatment proved abortive.

Examples of oral medications that are likely to be prescribed to you by your doctor are : 

  • Terbinafine 
  • Griseofulvin
  • Itraconazole

Furthermore, it was found that terbinafine and itraconazole are more effective than griseofulvin.

Griseofulvin is a treatment that was developed at an earlier time.

This means that the recent oral medication has been given more efficacy judging by the clinical discovery made over time. \


Use of hydrocortisone

Doctors often recommend the use of hydrocortisone for skins that are very sore and swollen.

Research shows that hydrocortisone is highly effective in regulating inflammatory conditions.

You’ll find low hydrocortisone doses as an OTC medication, while prescription may be needed for higher doses. 

Home remedies for athlete’s foot

There are several steps to take at home to relieve the symptoms of athlete’s foot.

Evidence shows that it can be helpful to soak your feet in a tea tree oil solution. Other steps include the following:

  • Soaking feet in saltwater or diluted vinegar to clear blisters
  • Making sure feet are completely dry after washing
  • Dusting the inside of shoes with a medicated powder

See your doctor

The ultimate remedy for athlete’s foot or any other infection is to visit a qualified medical practitioner.

When this happens, your doctor will examine the condition and give you the best possible treatment. 

How to prevent athlete’s foot

There are quite a number of ways you can prevent yourself from the athlete’s foot infection or its spread. These include:

  • Ensure the thorough and regular washing of your feet with soap and water and dry off your feet immediately.
  • Always wear shower shoes when making use of public showers and other public areas.
  • Avoid wearing airtight shoes and socks; wear ones that allow your feet to breathe.
  • Also, change your socks and shoes more often if you are the type that sweats a lot.
  • Avoid walking barefooted in locker rooms or public showers. 
  • Apply antifungal powder on your feet daily
  • Avoid sharing personal things such as socks, shoes, or towels.
  • You can apply disinfectant to your shoes each time you are about to wear them or put them off.
  • Always wash your hand thoroughly with soap and warm water any time you touch the affected area with your bare hands.


Athlete’s foot is a very common fungal infection, and it is contagious.

And unnecessary exposure of the feet to unfavorable conditions will increase the possibility of the infection occurring.

A healthy and clean lifestyle is important in helping to prevent the occurrence and spread of the infection.

It is best to see your doctor when the symptoms don’t improve after some time.