What is Athlete’s Foot? Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Well Heeled

What is ‘Athlete’s Foot’ and what could cause it?

Usually, the word ‘athlete’ is associated with good health. However, when it comes to your feet, you want to avoid the term altogether. Athlete’s foot, also known as tinea pedi, is a fungal infection of the foot. Sometimes, athlete’s foot can spread to the hands called tinea manuum.

Getting athlete’s foot is a common occurrence, with 3 to 15% of the population struggling with Athlete’s foot every year. It appears that athlete’s foot has become the modern man’s Achilles heel. Well Heeled looks at this in more detail below.

What are the symptoms of athlete’s foot?

Athlete’s foot can be seen and experienced in a variety of different ways:

an itching, stinging, or burning sensation between your toes or on the soles of your feet
itchy blisters on the feet
cracking and peeling skin on your feet, most commonly between your toes and on your soles
skin between the toes and on the soles starts to crack or peel
skin on the soles and sides of the feet is dry and stays dry after moisturizing
skin on the feet looks or feels raw
toenails appear discolored, thick, and crumbly
toenails pull away from the nail bed

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you might have athlete’s foot. Please don’t panic. Simply leap to your feet and start treating your athlete’s foot.

How is athlete’s foot diagnosed?

A podiatrist may diagnose athlete’s foot by examining the foot and looking at the symptoms. If a podiatrist isn’t sure it is a fungal infection causing your discomfort, a skin test may be ordered.

The test most commonly used for athlete’s foot is a skin lesion potassium hydroxide exam. That is a mouthful, and it sounds uncomfortable. However, it isn’t a big deal. The test is done by placing scrapes of a small area of infected skin in potassium hydroxide. Normal cells are completely destroyed, leaving only the fungal cells behind, making them easy to see with the help of a microscope.
How is athlete’s foot treated?

Athlete’s foot isn’t life-threatening, and it can often be treated with over-the-counter topical antifungal medications. However, if these medications don’t cure your infection, your podiatrist may prescribe topical or oral prescription-strength antifungal medication. Your podiatrist may also recommend treatments to do at home to help clear up the infection.
Over-the-counter medications

Today there are various over-the-counter topical antifungal medications available which can vary from country and region. These include:

miconazole (Desenex)
terbinafine (Lamisil AT)
clotrimazole (Lotrimin AF)
butenafine (Lotrimin Ultra)
tolnaftate (Tinactin)

Prescription medications

Your podiatrist might prescribe one of these prescription medications for athlete’s foot:

prescription-strength, topical clotrimazole or miconazole
oral antifungal medications, possibly including itraconazole (Sporanox), fluconazole (Diflucan), or prescription-strength terbinafine (Lamisil)
topical steroid medications to help in reducing painful inflammation
oral antibiotics if your skin is raw or has blisters to help prevent bacterial infections

Home care

Your podiatrist may recommend salt water or diluted vinegar soak for your feet. These soak treatments may help dry up blisters.

Prevention of athlete’s foot

There are lots of things that you can do to minimize your chance of getting athlete’s foot. These include:

Keep your feet clean. Wash your feet with water and soap at least once a day and dry them well, especially between the toes.
High-temperature washes are best for your socks, bedding, and towels. You want a temperature of at least 60°C
The best way to wash socks, bedding, and towels is in water that’s 140°F (60°C) or higher.
Disinfect your shoes with the help of disinfectant wipes or sprays.
Apply antifungal powder over the feet daily.
Avoid sharing socks, shoes, or towels with other people.
While using public showers, wear sandals.
Wear sandals around public swimming pools.
Invest in socks made of breathable fibers, such as cotton or wool, or socks made of synthetic fibers that drag moisture away from your skin.
If your feet feel sweaty, change your socks.
Give your feet some air at home by going barefoot.
Choose shoes made of breathable materials.

It is a great idea to alternate between two or more pairs of shoes, allowing each pair a day to dry out between use.

Most of the time, athlete’s symptoms are mild, and complications are not expected. However, it is best to treat it immediately since early treatment helps reduce the risk of complications.

If left untreated, or in severe cases, these complications may arise:

A fungal nail infection: If left untreated athlete’s foot the infection can spread to toenails, a condition known as onychomycosis. Toenails might seem thick, brittle, discolored, and crumbly. It can lead to significant discomfort because there might be inflammation under the skin of the toenail. If these infected toenails are left untreated, it could lead to more pain and even more significant discomfort when walking or wearing shoes.

A secondary bacterial infection: These bacterial infections, such as with athletes foot, might cause painful, hot, and swollen feet. If you have a secondary bacterial infection, you must see your podiatrist.

An infection in your lymph system: The condition can sometimes spread to your lymph system. This infection is called Lymphangitis, and it is an infection of the lymph vessels. Lymph nodes can also become infected, and it is called lymphadenitis.An infection in the lymph system can be very uncomfortable, so see your podiatrist as quickly as possible if you think you might have this infection.

Cellulitis: Cellulitis is a bacterial infection that is deep in the skin. It may affect the skin, fat, and soft tissue. If left untreated, cellulitis may lead to severe complications, such as blood poisoning or bone infections. Athlete’s foot leading to cellulitis is a very rare complication. However, cellulitis is a condition that must be treated with antibiotics immediately.

Allergy: Since some people are allergic to the fungus that causes athlete’s foot, the allergy can lead to blistering on the hands or feet.


When it comes to our bodies, including our feet, good habits help prevent infections like athlete’s foot. That being said, it is something that a large percentage of all of us experience at least once in our lives. Luckily there are lots of treatment options available, so we don’t need to worry about it. Instead, we can happily put our feet up and relax knowing that our feet will be healthy if we practice good foot health. Our ShapedUp diabetic sock not only supports feet when living with diabetes but could also help support feet that need that extra comfort.

About Me

Founder of Well Heeled - I have a great interest in diabetes and the effect on those diagnosed as well as those around them. With over 20 years in health and social care, as a qualified social worker and as a passionate educator within the health and social care sector, I wanted to bring further information to others around diabetes and other issues.

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