Person scratching athlete's foof

Athlete’s foot, also known as tinea pedis or ringworm of the foot, is a fungal infection that affects the soles of the feet (via Medical News Today). It makes the affected site red, dry, scaly, flaky, or cracked. The area might also smell, itch, sting, or burn. Athlete’s foot is caused by a type of fungus known as a dermatophyte, which multiplies and causes infections in dark, moist, and warm places. They spread from person to person through contact with a contaminated surface or infected person (or by touching their skin, socks, shoes, bedsheets, or towels).

Athlete’s foot is common in developed countries, and its incidence is on the rise due to urbanization and changes in the type of recreational activities people perform. It is estimated that at any given time, 25% of people in the U.S. may have athlete’s foot (via an article published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology). Moreover, an estimated 70% of people will have athlete’s foot at some point in their lives (per Medical News Today).

Athlete’s foot affects both children and adults, but it’s most common among men. It’s also possible for a person to have a hidden infection with no symptoms. This is usually an early stage of infection. Although athlete’s foot is the most common fungal infection caused by dermatophytes, these dermatophytes can also infect your skin elsewhere, as well as your hair or nails.

Is what you have athlete’s foot?

foot with interdigital athlete's foot

There are other skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, or dermatitis that can affect the feet. It’s important to be sure that what you have is athlete’s foot, so you can treat it properly. The fungi that cause athlete’s foot typically affect the superficial skin on the sole of the feet. This is because the fungi degrade and use the skin’s keratin to grow (per Medical News Today). The skin on the sole of the feet also lacks sebaceous glands which secrete antimicrobial substances, which aids the growth of these fungi (via an article published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology).

Athlete’s foot can appear in four patterns (via WebMD). The most common, interdigital tinea pedis, affects the web spaces between your toes (especially between the third, fourth, and fifth toes). Next, the moccasin type makes the sole of one or both feet thick, dry, scaly, or cracked. This type often goes unnoticed or has subtle symptoms. If athlete’s foot appears with painful, itchy, or red blisters, it’s vesicular tinea pedis. Ulcerative tinea pedis is rare; it often comes from the worsening of interdigital tinea pedis, resulting in ulcers and erosions (deep sores) in the skin of the affected web spaces. Most people with this type of athlete’s foot either have diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, or a weak immune system (per the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology). Whatever type of athlete’s foot you may have, there are things that can worsen your symptoms.

Not being proactive about treatment

pack of Lamisil cream

You can’t simply sit back and hope your athlete’s foot will go away with time. You need to treat it. Over-the-counter (OTC) topical antifungal medications are usually good at clearing athlete’s foot (via Patient). There are several types and brands of these antifungal medications. Meant to be applied on the skin, they come as creams, sprays, powders, or fluids. Most products contain either clotrimazole, econazole, miconazole, ketoconazole, terbinafine, tolnaftate, or undecenoic acid. Your symptoms might clear up quickly once you use these products. But you shouldn’t quit the treatment prematurely, as the fungi might still linger on your skin to cause another infection. It’s important that you use antifungal treatments for as long as you’re advised to.

There are some home remedy options that may be effective or offer some relief. For example, applying tea tree oil, bitter orange oil, or sunflower oil on the affected area might help you get rid of your symptoms (via WebMD). You can also try out gels made from ajoene (from garlic) and Sosa creams. Regular foot soaks with green tea or vinegar can also help with athlete’s foot. While any of these remedies may offer some relief, they may not be completely effective at killing the fungi that cause athlete’s foot. However, they’re still worth trying in addition to using antifungal medications. Just remember to do a patch test to find out if you have a skin reaction to any home remedy you try out.

hand holding hydrocortisone cream
doctor examining the foot of a patient
shoes and socks someone removed
happy and sad face on feet