Athlete’s Foot (Tinea Pedis)

Athlete’s Foot (Tinea Pedis)


This is a fungal infection that affects the skin on the feet and is contagious. It can also affect the toenails and hands. The reason it is being called athlete’s foot is that it is majorly seen in athletes.

It is not a severe condition but at times, it may be difficult to cure. Call a doctor immediately if you suspect that you have athlete’s foot and you are diabetic or have another condition that affects the immune system.

Athlete's foot
Photo Credit: Healthline


When the fungus, Tinea, grows on the feet, athlete’s foot is the resultant effect. The fungus can be gotten through direct contact with an infected person or by having contact with surfaces that have been contaminated with the fungus. The fungus does well in warm, moist environments and is commonly found in showers, floors of locker rooms, and at the surroundings of swimming pools.


Athlete’s foot can happen to anyone but there are some conditions that make people more susceptible to developing it than others. The factors include:

  • Being barefoot in public places such as locker rooms, showers or swimming pool
  • Using socks, shoes, or towels of an infected person
  • Wearing tight, covered-front shoes
  • Carrying moist feet around for a long time
  • Having sweaty feet
  • Having a minor injury of the nail or skin on the foot


The likely symptoms of athlete’s foot include:

  • Itching, stinging, and burning sensation felt between the toes or on the soles of the feet
  • Itchy blisters on the feet
  • The skin undergoes cracking or peeling, especially that between the toes and on the sole of the feet
  • Skin dryness on the soles or sides of the feet
  • Raw skin on the feet
  • Toenails become discolored, thick, and crumbly
  • Toenails are easily pulled from the nail bed


Symptoms are enough to make a diagnosis of athlete’s foot. If there is confusion on what the cause could be, a skin test can be ordered by a doctor to confirm a fungal infection.

The commonest skin test done is a skin lesion potassium hydroxide examination. Skin scrapping of an infected area is done and place in a mound of potassium hydroxide. The potassium hydroxide damages normal cells and does not touch the fungal cells so that they are visualized under a microscope.


Over-the-counter (OTC) medications can be used to treat athlete’s foot. If they do not work, the doctor will prescribe topical or oral prescription-only antifungal drugs. The doctor will also advise on some home treatment remedies that are helpful.

OTC medications used

A variety of topical antifungal drugs are available for OTC use and they include:

  • Miconazole (Desenex)
  • Terbinafine (Lamisil AT)
  • Clotrimazole (Lomitrin AF)
  • Butenafine (Lomitrin Ultra)
  • Tolnaftate (Tinactin)

Prescription medications used

Examples of the prescription drugs the doctor may prescribe for the management of athlete’s foot include:

  • Topical, prescription-only clotrimazole or miconazole
  • Oral antifungal drugs such as itraconazole (Sporanox), fluconazole (Diflucan), or prescription-only terbinafine (Lamisil)
  • Topical steroid medications that reduce inflammation symptoms
  • Oral antibiotics especially if bacterial infections occur on raw skin and blisters

Home care

To make the blisters to heal faster and dry up, the doctor may recommend that you soak your feet in salt water or diluted vinegar.

 Alternative therapy

Some success has been recorded when using tea tree oil as an alternative therapy for treating athlete’s foot. In a trial that was done, 64 percent of trial participants were cured of athlete’s foot with the use of tea tree oil in 2002.

Ask your doctor if a solution of tea tree oil can cure athlete’s foot. Some people may have an allergic reaction to tea tree oil such as contact dermatitis.


Athlete’s foot can result in complications in some cases. The complications can be mild or severe. The mild ones include allergic reaction to the fungus such as blisters on the hand or feet. A re-infection can occur even after treatment.

The severe complications may be in the form of a secondary bacterial infection. This will present with swelling, pain, and heat. Extra symptoms of a bacterial infection are pus, drainage, and fever.

The bacterial infection can disseminate to the lymphatic system. A skin infection can lead to infections of the lymph nodes or lymphatic system.


Athlete’s infection can either be mild or severe. Some resolve quickly while others persist. The condition as a whole is usually responsive to treatment but it may be hard to eliminate at times. Even after treatment, continuous antifungal therapy may be needed to prevent a recurrence.


There are different ways by which an athlete’s foot can be prevented. They include:

  • Feet washing with soap and water and drying thoroughly, especially between the toes
  • Wash clothes including socks, bedding, and towels in water that is 140oC (600C) in temperature or higher. Combining washing with OTC antifungal application is enough to treat most cases of athlete’s foot. Disinfectant wipes or sprays can also be used to clean shoes
  • Apply antifungal powder on your feet every day
  • Do not share clothing or shoes with other people
  • Endeavor to put on sandals when using public showers, around swimming pools or in public places
  • Wear socks made from cotton, wool or synthetic fibers that absorb moisture from the skin
  • Change your socks when your feet are sweaty
  • Go barefoot when at home so as to air the feet
  • The shoes you wear should be made of breathable fibers, such as cotton or wool.
  • Give your shoes time to dry out between uses by alternating between two pairs of shoes, wearing each pair every other day. This is because the fungus grows better on moisture.

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