Athlete's Foot
Tinea pedis usually affects the soles of the feet and the skin between the toes.

Tinea pedis or athlete’s foot is a type of fungal skin infection that usually begins between the toes.

Mild tinea pedis goes away within two weeks. However, in some cases, recovery may take longer if the infection is serious or affects the toenails. For people with diabetes, tinea pedis may take up to four weeks to clear up.

Treatment of an athlete’s foot usually involves:

What causes tinea pedis?

Tinea pedis is the result of an infection caused by fungi called dermatophytes that normally live on the skin, hair, and nails. This type of fungus thrives in damp, warm environments and feeds on keratin, a protein found on the top layer of the skin.

Athletes’ foot is contagious, and fungi can enter the skin through small cracks or wounds and infect the top layer. This occurs commonly through direct skin contact or contact with flakes of skin in pools or communal showers.

Tinea pedis can affect anyone (not just athletes) and is estimated to affect 3 to 15 percent of the population. Men and older people are more likely to develop the infection.

What are the risk factors for tinea pedis?

Risk factors that can make you more vulnerable to this infection include:

  • Genetics
  • Skin allergies
  • Obesity
  • Eczema
  • Trauma or wounds on the feet
  • Excessive sweating
  • Tight socks
  • Wearing enclosed footwear
  • Sharing mats, rugs, bed linens, clothes, or shoes with someone who has a fungal infection
  • Walking barefoot in public areas, such as locker rooms, saunas, swimming pools, communal baths, and showers
  • Weak immune system due to serious medical illnesses or side effects of medications
  • Circulation issues in the legs due to diabetes or narrow blood vessels
  • Swimming or using public showers often

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What are the signs and symptoms of tinea pedis?

Tinea pedis usually affects the soles of the feet and the skin between the toes, especially between the little toe and the toe next to it. In some cases, it can affect the toenails, leading to thick, yellowish, and brittle toenails.

Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Redness, peeling, cracking, and flaking of the skin on the feet
  • Itching, stinging, or burning sensation
  • White patches between the toes
  • Blisters that may ooze
  • Dry, scaly skin on the bottom of the foot that extends up the side

How is tinea pedis diagnosed and prevented?

The healthcare provider can diagnose an athlete's foot by closely looking at it and asking questions about the symptoms and lifestyle.

In some cases, the doctor may advise scraping off a small sample of the flaky infected skin to look at under a microscope or to test in a laboratory.

As the fungus needs a moist and damp environment to grow and survive, the following preventive measures may help you avoid it:

  • Avoid wearing tight shoes or socks that can make the feet sweaty
  • Take off shoes and socks as often as possible
  • Pat feet dry after a shower
  • Wash socks and towels regularly in hot water
  • Avoid walking barefoot in public places or locker rooms
  • Do not wear the same sweaty shoes over and over; allow them to dry
  • Always take a shower after exercise
  • Thoroughly wash and dry feet after using a public shower or common changing room
  • Do not share towels, socks, or shoes

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Medically Reviewed on 10/19/2022
References
Image Source: iStock image

Athlete’s foot. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/athletes-foot/symptoms-causes/syc-20353841

Athlete’s Foot. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/athletes-foot.html

Athlete’s Foot: Not Just for Athletes. https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2018/october/athletes-foot

Athlete’s Foot (Tinea Pedis). https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22139-athletes-foot-tinea-pedis