How to Prevent Athlete's Foot

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stoppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

Athlete's foot, medically known as tinea pedis, is a fungal infection of the skin of the feet. Despite its name, athlete's foot can affect anyone and is not restricted to those who play sports or participate in physical exercise. It is estimated that up to 70% of the population will have athlete's foot at some time in their lives.

Symptoms of athlete's foot include dry skin, itching, burning, and redness of the feet. The symptoms are often apparent in the skin between the toes, where the infection usually starts. Blistering, peeling, cracking of the skin, and bleeding may occur. Sometimes the affected skin can appear white and wet on the surface.

The fungus that causes athlete's foot can be found on floors and clothing, and the organisms require a warm, dark, and humid environment in order to grow. The infection spreads by direct contact with contaminated surfaces or objects. As the infection spreads, it may affect the soles of the feet or the toenails. The affected skin is also more vulnerable to bacteria that cause skin infection (cellulitis). This is particularly common in persons with diabetes, the elderly, and people with impaired function of the immune system.

Fungal infections, including athlete's foot, are treated with antibiotics. Both over-the-counter and prescription antibiotic creams are available to treat athlete's foot infection. Alternatively, for persistent infections, your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics. It is important to continue treatment for the recommended time period even if the skin appears to have healed, since incomplete treatment frequently results in reinfection.

These are methods to help prevent the athlete's foot infection:

  • Wash your feet often with soap and water, and be sure to dry them well after washing (especially the area between the toes).
  • Do not wear other people's shoes or slippers.
  • Choose shoes that allow air circulation (such as leather or canvas) rather than vinyl or other materials that do not allow the feet to "breathe."
  • Wear sandals in warm weather.
  • Always wear rubber sandals or water shoes in public showers and locker rooms.
  • Keep your socks dry, and change them if they become wet. Wearing cotton socks that wick moisture away from the feet is also helpful.
  • Change shoes often.
  • Antifungal foot powders can be applied to the feet or put in the shoes to absorb moisture.
  • Avoid walking barefoot in any damp places. Sandals and water shoes can provide protection when using public pools and spas.

For more information, please visit the Athlete's Foot Center.


Last Editorial Review: 5/7/2007



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