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Athlete’s Foot - Causes, Risk factors, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

Published on Nov 02, 2019 and last reviewed on Jul 15, 2020   -  5 min read


Athlete's foot, otherwise called tinea pedis, is a fungal infection seen between the toes in people whose toes become sweaty (athletes) and people who wear tight shoes. Read the article to know about its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

Athlete’s Foot - Causes, Risk factors, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

What Is an Athlete's Foot?

One of the fungal infections affecting the foot is known as athlete’s foot, also called tinea pedis. It commonly happens in people having sweaty feet due to tight-fitting shoes. The prevalence is more than 10 million cases per year in India. It is contagious and seen to spread to the toenails and the hands. The name athlete’s foot is used because it is a common observation in athletes.

What Are the Causes?

It occurs when the tinea fungus starts to grow on the feet. It can happen by:

1. Direct contact with an infected person.

2. Touching contaminated surfaces (contaminated by the fungus).

Facts About Athlete’s Foot:

What Are the Risk Factors for an Athlete’s Foot?

It can happen to anyone, but the behavior affects the risk factors. The following are the factors that can put you at risk of getting it:

1. Visiting public places in bare feet, like locker rooms, swimming pools, showers, etc.

2. Sharing food, socks, or towels with an infected person.

3. Use of closed-toe, tight shoes.

4. Wet feet for a long time.

5. Feet that are sweaty might increase the risk.

6. Minor nail or skin injury on the foot.

What Are the Symptoms?

The following constitute symptoms of athlete’s foot:

1. Itchiness, stinging sensation or burning sensation between toes

and soles of feet

2. Itching blisters on my feet.

3. Cracks and peeling of the skin of feet, commonly observed between

toes and soles.

4. Dry or raw skin of feet.

5. Toenails become discolored, thick.

6. Toenails pulling away from the nail bed.

How Can It Be Diagnosed?

Initially, the diagnosis is made using symptoms. Also, the skin test can be used to diagnose the condition and confirm whether it is fungal in nature or not.

The most commonly used method is the potassium hydroxide examination of the skin lesion. In this, a small area of infected skin is scraped off by a physician and placed in potassium hydroxide. The potassium hydroxide causes the destruction of healthy cells, and fungal cells are unaffected, and hence, these cells are easily identified under the microscope.

What Are the Treatment Options?

a) There are various treatment options available to cure this condition, and most common over-the-counter topical antifungal medications prove to be useful. Some of the commonly used TC topical antifungal medications include Miconazole, Clotrimazole, Butenafine, Tolnaftate, Terbinafine. But, it is advisable to use these medications under a physician’s consent.

b) If OTC does not cure this, the physician prescribes topical or oral antifungal medications. Some of the prescription medications include:

1. Clotrimazole, Miconazole: Topical.

2. Itraconazole, Fluconazole, Terbinafine: Oral.

3. Topical steroids.

4. Other oral antibiotics can be prescribed, too, if bacterial infections develop due to raw skin and blisters.

Home Remedies:

Some home remedies have also proven to be beneficial, though scientific confirmation has yet to be done. The commonly followed home care remedy involves soaking the feet in salt water or diluted vinegar so that the blisters can dry up. Here are a few good remedies for athlete’s feet.

Tea tree oil has both antifungal and antibacterial properties. This is the reason why tea tree oil is commonly used to treat many fungal infections. This might include infections from candidiasis and roundworm infections. Mix warm coconut oil with tea tree oil for additional benefits. Apply it to the affected area twice a day for more results.

Hydrogen peroxide is known to kill the fungus effectively. The home remedy involves directly pouring hydrogen peroxide onto the affected area. It may hurt a little, especially when you have open wounds. Do this twice every day till the infection subsides.

Both neem oil and extracts of neem leaf have antifungal properties. You can apply the neem oil or its extract directly to the affected area two times a day by massaging the skin. This is helpful for treating infections that develop under the toenails.

Garlic is the best medicine for many infections. Treating an athlete’s foot topically can be effective. To use garlic topically, crush four to five cloves of garlic, smash it and rub them on the affected area. Repeat this twice daily.

Rubbing alcohol on hand to clean cuts can help in killing the fungus that’s on the surface of the skin. Soaking your feet in a footbath having 70 percent of rubbing alcohol and 30 percent of water shows better results.

Sea salt is the best example of antibacterial and antifungal properties. It may actually inhibit the growth and spread of athlete’s feet. Try dissolving a cup of sea salt into a warm foot bath. Soak your feet for a minimum of 20 minutes. After that, dry your feet thoroughly.

Talcum powder works well to treat athlete’s feet. The affected area is dry and clean to prevent further spreading. Apply talcum powder to the affected area. Wash your socks regularly.

What Are the Complications?

Sometimes, this condition can lead to complications. Some of the mild complications comprise of allergic reactions related to the fungus that can ultimately cause blisters on the feet or hands. Recurrence of the condition after treatment has also been noted.

Severe complications may take place if a secondary bacterial infection develops. The symptoms of this condition involve swollen, painful, hotfoot. To add on, bacterial infection can also represent with pus, drainage, and fever.

If this bacterial infection spreads to the lymphatic system, the lymph nodes and the lymphatic system can be affected.

What Are the Preventive Measures?

The following can be done to prevent athlete’s foot:

1. Washing of the foot and toes with soap and water followed by drying, daily.

2. Washing socks, bedding and towels, and disinfecting shoes.

3. You can use antifungal powder on your feet daily if you are prone to this condition.

4. Avoid sharing your belongings like socks, towels, shoes, etc., with others.

5. Wear footwear in public places.

6. Change socks frequently.

7. Use of shoes made with breathable materials.


Athlete’s foot is a common condition that can be cured easily, but sometimes it can also lead to complications. Hence, it is advisable to consult your physician to get proper details about it, and you can now avail it at the ease of sitting at your home with the help of online medical platforms.

Frequently Asked Questions


How to Get Rid of Athlete's Foot Fast?

Feet, toes, and between the toes must be washed every morning and in the evening. Change socks regularly and do not wear the same shoes day after the other to grant them to dry entirely before wearing them again. It is recommended to sprinkle or add some antifungal powder over the feet and in the shoes daily.


What Does an Athlete's Foot Look Like?

The athlete's foot looks like scaly skin, flaky, and dry. The skin may also tend to crack, and the infection spreads very quickly. This fungus thrives in warm and damp environments like gym locker rooms and swimming pool areas.


What Is the Best Treatment for Athlete's Foot?

List of products that are used for treatment for athlete's foot are,
- Lamisil Athlete's Foot Antifungal Cream.
- SMOOTHAF Medicated Foot Towels.
- Zeasorb Antifungal Treatment Powder.
- Tinactin Antifungal Liquid Spray.


What Kills Athlete's Foot Instantly?

Rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide can help kill the fungus, which is on the surface of the skin. This can be applied directly to the affected area or soak the feet in a footbath containing 70% rubbing alcohol and 30% water for half an hour.


How Long It Will Take for an Athlete's Foot to Go Away?

Depending on the product varieties, the suggested treatment ranges from one to four weeks of time. The sign of a skin infection, such as soreness or itching, must improve within a few days of treatment with all Canesten Athlete's foot creams. If the symptoms do not improve within seven days, please consult the doctor.


Does Vinegar Kill Athlete's Foot?

One common method to treat an athlete's foot is the acetic acid present in vinegar, which destroys fungus and soothes itching. The cornstarch or baking soda will deprive the fungus of the moisture it craves to spread and grow.


Does the Athlete's Foot Smell?

The athlete's foot (fungal infections) will lead to bad foot odor. If sweat soaks into shoes, the feet become smelly, and it won't dry before you wear them again. Bacteria over the skin break down sweat as it comes from the holes or pores.


Does Scratching an Athlete's Foot Make It Worse?

The athlete's foot will spread if you touch other parts of your body and scratch the itch, including the skin under your arms and your groin (jock itch). It will also spread to other parts of the body via contaminated clothing or sheets.


Does Hand Sanitizer Kill Athletes Foot?

If you are exposed to an athlete's foot, then instantly clean your feet and completely dry them. If possible, sanitize your feet. If you can not wash them using antibacterial soap, use hand sanitizer, which will work for a pinch.


Can You Have an Athlete's Foot for Years?

Even after undergoing proper medical treatment, the infection can return quickly if the feet are exposed again to the sweaty and fungi environment. Due to this reason, many people experience an athlete's foot infection that lasts or keeps returning for many years.

Article Resources

Last reviewed at:
15 Jul 2020  -  5 min read




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