What is athlete’s foot?
Athlete’s foot — also called tinea pedis — is a contagious fungal infection that affects the skin on the feet. It can also spread to the toenails and the hands.
The fungal infection is called athlete’s foot because it’s commonly seen in athletes. Athlete’s foot isn’t serious, but sometimes it’s hard to cure. If you have diabetes or a weakened immune system and suspect you have athlete’s foot you should call your doctor right away.
What causes athlete’s foot?
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:
- visiting public places barefoot, especially locker rooms, showers, and swimming pools
- sharing socks, shoes, or towels with an infected person
- wearing tight-fitting, closed-toe shoes
- keeping your feet wet for long periods of time
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.
Some of the prescription medications your doctor may prescribe for athlete’s foot include:
- topical, prescription-strength clotrimazole or miconazole
- oral antifungal medications such as itraconazole (Sporanox), fluconazole (Diflucan), or prescription-strength terbinafine (Lamisil)
- topical steroid medications to reduce painful inflammation
- oral antibiotics if bacterial infections develop due to raw skin and blisters
Your doctor may recommend that you soak your feet in salt water or diluted vinegar to help dry up blisters.
There are several things you can do to help prevent athlete’s foot infections. These include:
- Wash your feet with soap and water every day and dry them thoroughly, especially between the toes.
- To kill the fungus, you will need to wash in 140°F (60°C) water or higher. Combining washing with OTC anti-fungal recommendations should treat most cases of athlete’s foot. Regarding shoes, you can disinfect them using disinfectant wipes (like Clorox wipes) or sprays.
- 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.