Athlete's Foot

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Quick GuideFungus Among Us: What to Know About Fungal Infections in Pictures

Fungus Among Us: What to Know About Fungal Infections in Pictures

Is athlete's foot contagious?

If athlete's foot is caused by a fungus, it is potentially contagious. Some people do not develop infection of the skin after exposure to the fungus. The exact cause of resistance or susceptibility to fungal infections is unknown.

What else causes foot rashes?

There are many possible causes of foot rashes. Additional causes include irritant or contact dermatitis, allergic rashes from shoes or other creams, pompholyx (dyshidrotic eczema), psoriasis, yeast infections, and bacterial infections (gram negative toe web infection and erythrasma). Since these conditions are often indistinguishable on superficial visual examination, it is important for your doctor to do his best to identify the precise cause. Since fungal infections are potentially curable, it is important not to miss this diagnosis.

Your physician may perform a simple test called a potassium hydroxide (KOH) preparation for microscopic fungal examination in the office or laboratory. This test can be used to confirm the presence of a fungal infection. This test is performed by using a microscope to examine small flakes of skin from the rash. Many dermatologists perform this test in their office with results available within minutes. Rarely, a small piece of skin may be removed and sent for biopsy or fungal culture to help confirm the diagnosis.

What are risk factors for athlete's foot?

Walking barefoot in wet, dark areas frequented by many other individuals like indoor swimming pool decks, communal showers, and locker rooms result in frequent exposure to pathogenic fungi (dermatophytes) that cause athlete’s foot. Wearing occlusive footwear is thought to play a significant role in the increased frequency of tinea pedis. Exposure to moisture either from excessive sweating or from an external source is a risk factor. Wearing the same shoes and socks for an extended period may damage the skin. Patients with diabetes are predisposed to develop tinea pedis. Some believe that eczema (atopic dermatitis) can predispose one to tinea pedis. It appears that many more men have tinea pedis than women. Pedicure performed in contaminated environments can spread disease.

How do health care professionals diagnose athlete's foot?

The most reliable way to diagnose athlete’s foot is to correctly identify its cause. Fungal athlete's foot is relatively straightforward to diagnose and treat. Visualization of the fungus in skin scrapings removed from the affected areas of the feet is a painless and cost-effective method for diagnosis. Rarely, it is necessary to identify fungi in portions of skin removed during a biopsy. If no fungus is found, other causes of athlete's foot must be investigated.

Reviewed on 7/14/2017
References
REFERENCES:

Canavan, Theresa N., and Boni E. Elewski. "Identifying Signs of Tinea Pedis: A Key to Understanding Clinical Variables." Journal of Drugs in Dermatology 14.10 October 2015: s42-s47.

Lin, Jing-Yi, et al. "Foot Bacterial Intertrigo Mimicking Interdigital Tinea Pedis." Chang Gung Med J 34.1 January-February 2011: 44-49.

Tlougan, B.E., Mancini, A.J., Mandell, J.A., Cohen, D.E., and Sanchez, M.R. "Skin conditions in figure skaters, ice-hockey players and speed skaters: part II - cold-induced, infectious and inflammatory dermatoses." Sports Med 41.11 Nov. 1, 2011: 967-984.

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