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Athlete's Foot

What is athlete's foot?

Athlete's foot is a common skin problem caused by a fungus. The fungal infection usually begins on the skin between the toes. However, it may start on or spread to other parts of the foot, becoming scaly and itchy. Over time it may cause a break in the skin and become sore. The medical term for athlete's foot is tinea pedis.

How does it occur?

The fungus that causes athlete's foot is everywhere in the environment. It is commonly picked up from the floors of showers, locker rooms, and exercise facilities. The fungus is more likely to grow on sweaty, constantly damp, or improperly dried feet (especially in shoes or socks with poor ventilation).

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms on the feet include:

  • itching
  • cracked and peeling skin, usually between toes, especially the 4th and 5th toes
  • soreness.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider can usually diagnose athlete's foot by examining your skin. Sometimes he or she may swab or scrape off a skin sample to test for fungus. If your provider suspects that you may also have a bacterial infection, the skin sample may be tested for bacteria.

How is it treated?

Athlete's foot can often be treated successfully with a nonprescription antifungal medicine such as Micatin, Tinactin, Lotrimin, or Desenex. These medicines are creams, liquids, or powders that you put on the skin of your foot. If the infection is severe or widespread, your healthcare provider may prescribe a medicine to take by mouth.

How long will the effects last?

Some people have mild athlete's foot infections just once in a while. These infections usually clear up in a few days. More serious infections may take 1 to 2 weeks. Other people have infections often or nearly constantly for weeks, months, or years. If you have frequent or prolonged problems, see your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider may prescribe medicine that not only treats the ongoing itch and discomfort but also helps prevent a more serious bacterial infection.

How can I help prevent athlete's foot?

Follow these guidelines:

  • Keep your feet clean and dry, especially in hot weather. Dry your feet well after bathing, especially between the toes.
  • Wear cotton or athletic socks that wick moisture away from your foot. These socks are usually made with a special synthetic material, such as Coolmax or Duraspun.
  • Change your socks every day, or more often if the socks become damp.
  • Wear sandals or shoes with ventilation holes or porous upper material (a natural material such as canvas or leather rather than man-made material).
  • Air out your shoes when you aren't wearing them. It is helpful to have more than 1 pair of everyday shoes and to switch shoes every day.
  • Wear something on your feet, such as flip-flop sandals, when you take a shower in a locker room or other shared shower stall.
  • Disinfect shower and locker room floors.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-07-21
Last reviewed: 2010-06-01
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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