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.