Athlete’s foot occurs when the tinea fungus grows on the feet. You can catch the fungus through direct contact with an infected person, or by touching surfaces contaminated with the fungus. The fungus thrives in warm, moist environments. It’s commonly found in showers, on locker room floors, and around swimming pools.
Who is at risk for athlete’s foot?
Anyone can get athlete’s foot, but certain behaviors increase your risk. Factors that increase your risk of getting athlete’s foot include:
What are the symptoms of athlete’s foot?
There are many possible symptoms of athlete’s foot, which include:
- itching, stinging, and burning between the toes
- itching, stinging, and burning on the soles of the feet
- blisters on the feet that itch
- cracking and peeling skin on the feet, most commonly between the toes and on the soles
- dry skin on the soles or sides of the feet
- raw skin on the feet
- discolored, thick, and crumbly toenails
- toenails that pull away from the nail.
How is athlete’s foot diagnosed?
A doctor may diagnose athlete’s foot by the symptoms. Or, a doctor may order a skin test if they aren’t sure a fungal infection is causing your symptoms.
A skin lesion potassium hydroxide (KOH) exam is the most common test for athlete’s foot. A doctor scrapes off a small area of infected skin and places it in potassium hydroxide (KOH). The KOH destroys normal cells and leaves the fungal cells untouched so they are easy to see under a microscope.
Athlete’s foot can often be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) topical antifungal medications. If OTC medications don’t treat the fungal infection, your doctor may prescribe topical or oral prescription-strength antifungal medications. Your doctor may also recommend home treatments to help clear up the infection.
Athlete’s foot can lead to complications in some cases. Mild complications include an allergic reaction to the fungus, which can lead to blistering on the feet or hands. It’s also possible for the fungal infection to return after treatment.
There can be more severe complications if a secondary bacterial infection develops. In this case, your foot might be swollen, painful, and hot. Pus, drainage, and fever are additional signs of a bacterial infection.
It’s also possible for the bacterial infection to spread to the lymph system. A skin infection could lead to lymphangitis (infection of the lymph vessels) or lymphadenitis (infection of the lymph nodes).
- Put antifungal powder on your feet every day.
- Don’t share socks, shoes, or towels with others.
- Wear sandals in public showers, around public swimming pools, and in other public places.
- Wear socks made out of breathable fibers, such as cotton or wool, or made out of synthetic fibers that wick moisture away from your skin.
- Change your socks when your feet get sweaty.
- Air out your feet when you are at home by going barefoot.
- Wear shoes made of breathable materials.
- Alternate between two pairs of shoes, wearing each pair every other day, to give your shoes time to dry out between uses. Moisture will allow the fungus to continue to grow.