Athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) is an infection of the feet caused by fungus.
The various kinds of fungi that cause athlete’s foot grow best in warm places such as bathroom floors and rugs, shower stalls, near heated pools and hot tubs, plus in socks, shoes and other clothing.
Skin contact with the fungi, however, is usually not enough to cause athlete’s foot. In fact, shoes can carry fungi for quite some time until conditions are good for growth.
Favorable conditions for athlete’s foot include:
- Continually sweaty feet
- Wet socks
- Shoes that are too tight and cause friction
- A bandage that remains on the foot long enough to soften skin
Infection mostly occurs between toes or on soles or sides of feet. At first skin becomes white and soft, then it cracks and peels. It is usually (although not always) itchy. When the top layer is removed, the skin below is red. Occasionally blisters develop, which can be very painful, especially if they are on the bottom of the feet. When toenails are infected, they may become thick, yellow and crumbly. See Images.
Treat infection as soon as you notice it. Apply antifungal cream (available without prescription) according to package instructions. Sprinkle talcum or antifungal powder on feet and inside shoes. Continue until at least a week after symptoms disappear. In most cases symptoms disappear in one to three weeks. Follow Prevention guidelines below.
Prevention is the best treatment!
Keep your feet clean and dry. Here's how:
- Wash feet with soap and water daily.
- Change socks daily or twice a day if feet sweat a lot.
- Wear socks that absorb moisture. Cotton is best; avoid wearing synthetic materials for extended periods.
- Dry feet thoroughly after a bath or shower; use a hair dryer if necessary.
- Sprinkle talcum powder to absorb moisture.
- Wash socks and towels in hot water.
- Let feet “breathe.” Wear open shoes or sandals when possible.
- Don’t go barefoot in public showers or near swimming pools or hot tubs.
When to seek medical care:
Visit a clinician if you notice:
- Excessive peeling of the skin
- Swelling, redness and/or oozing (may indicate a bacterial infection)
- Continued symptoms after using non-prescription medications
- Infection of toenails (see Symptoms)
How to use University Health Service:
See Schedule an Appointment: Appointments are required for most medical services, however options are available for urgent concerns.
Nurse Advice by Phone is available day and night, which may save a trip to UHS, the ER or an urgent care facility.