Dermatologists and Skin Care Data Verified

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

Published on Nov 02, 2019 and last reviewed on Jun 06, 2023   -  5 min read


An athlete’s foot is a fungal infection of the toes, common to athletes and people who wear tight shoes with sweaty toes. Read the article to know more.

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

What Is an Athlete Foot?

One of the fungal infections affecting the foot is known as an athlete’s foot, also called tinea pedis. It commonly happens in people having sweaty feet due to tight-fitting shoes. The prevalence is around 15 percent to 20 percent of people worldwide. 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 of an Athlete Foot?

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

  • Direct contact with an infected person.

  • Touching contaminated surfaces (contaminated by the fungus).

Facts About Athlete’s Foot:

  • It is also common in HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) patients. Data has shown that around 20 percent to 35 percent of HIV-infected patients have an infection with Tinea. Additionally, palms may also be involved. Though this condition is seen in a patient without HIV, also, HIV-positive patients are more prone to this condition.

  • The athlete’s foot is not an emergency or serious condition. Still, the cure is sometimes a little difficult to attain, like in patients suffering from diabetes or a weak immune system.

  • The fungi tinea pedis can be found in showers, locker room floors, around swimming pools, etc.

What Are the Risk Factors for an Athlete Foot?

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

  • Sweaty feet might increase the risk.

  • Minor nail or skin injury on the foot.

What Are the Symptoms of an Athlete Foot?

The following constitute symptoms of athlete’s foot:

  • Itchiness, stinging sensation, or burning sensation between toes

and soles of feet.

  • Itching blisters on the feet.

  • Cracks and peeling of the skin of feet are commonly observed between toes and soles.

  • Dry or raw skin of feet.

  • Toenails become discolored and thick.

  • Toenails pulling away from the nail bed.

How Can It Be Diagnosed?

Initially, the diagnosis is made by observing 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. Hence, these cells are easily identified under the microscope.

What Are the Treatment Options?

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

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

  • Clotrimazole and Miconazole: Indicated for topical application.

  • Itraconazole, Fluconazole, Terbinafine: Administered orally.

  • Topical steroids.

  • 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 athletes’ feet.

Tea Tree Oil:

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:

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 a person has open wounds. Do this twice every day till the infection subsides.

Neem Oil:

Both neem oil and extracts of neem leaf have antifungal properties. An individual 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:

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

Sea Salt Baths:

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

Talcum Powder:

Talcum powder works well to treat athletes’ feet. The affected area is dry and clean to prevent further spreading. Apply talcum powder to the affected area. A person should wash their used socks regularly.

What Are the Complications?

Sometimes, this condition can lead to complications. Some of the mild complications consist 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, hot feet. To add on, bacterial infection can also be represented by 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:

  • Washing of the feet and toes with soap and water, followed by drying daily.

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

  • An affected individual can use antifungal powder on their feet daily if they are prone to this condition.

  • A person should avoid sharing their belongings, like socks, towels, shoes, etc., with others.

  • Wear footwear in public places.

  • Change socks frequently.

  • Use shoes made with breathable materials.


An athlete’s foot is a common condition that can be cured easily, but sometimes it can also lead to complications if left untreated. Get your online prescription for this condition. In addition, it can also be prevented by taking all the preventive measures. Also, it is crucial to complete the course of treatment suggested by the doctor to prevent the recurrence of this infection.

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.

Last reviewed at:
06 Jun 2023  -  5 min read




Comprehensive Medical Second Opinion.Submit your Case

Related Questions & Answers

I am diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, OCD, anxiety, and depression. Kindly help.

Query: Hello doctor, I am 30 years old male. Weight is 107 kg, and height is 5'9. Not under any medications. (Not been on any medication for over a year previous medications include numerous mental health medications, various SSRIs, Clomipramine, and several anti-psychotics, most recently Olanzapine). I t...  Read Full »

After getting rash and pimples on my lips, it got spread all over my body. Why?

Query: Hello doctor, I am a 49 year old female, who has so far consulted two infectious disease doctors, my ENT, my primary care doctor, and a dermatologist. I believe I have an undiagnosed parasitic infection. I have a primary immune deficiency, for which I receive IV Ig every three weeks, and I am in g...  Read Full »


Article Overview: Cellulitis is a bacterial infection affecting the skin. Read this article to know more about the causes, symptoms, and risk factors. Read Article

Yeshwanth Kumar
Yeshwanth Kumar

What Is Cellulitis? Cellulitis is a potentially serious bacterial infection of the skin, which includes the subcutaneous tissue, fat, and the soft tissue layer. The other name for cellulitis is Phlegmon. It first appears as an area that is hot to touch and is red and swollen. Cellulitis can occur an...  Read Article

Popular Articles Most Popular Articles

Do you have a question on Fungal Infection or Diabetes?

Ask a Doctor Online

* guaranteed answer within 4 hours.

Disclaimer: No content published on this website is intended to be a substitute for professional medical diagnosis, advice or treatment by a trained physician. Seek advice from your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with questions you may have regarding your symptoms and medical condition for a complete medical diagnosis. Do not delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice because of something you have read on this website. Read our Editorial Process to know how we create content for health articles and queries.