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Athlete’s Foot

What is Athlete’s foot?

Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection of the skin on the feet. It is very common – up to one in four people have athlete’s foot at some point in their lives.

Athlete’s foot is the most common fungal skin infection in feet, and presents as itchy peeling skin in between the toes, a peeling rash, or a rash of small, brown-red spots. It can be very itchy and uncomfortable. Sometimes it can present as a dry, eczema type of skin, with underlying inflammation. It can also look like “chalky” type deposits on the skin.

This infection can affect any part of the foot, and in some cases will spread to other parts of the body.

Athlete's foot - close up of litttle toe
Athlete’s foot

Fungal germs (fungi) often occur in small numbers on human skin where they usually do no harm (called dermatophytes). However, if conditions are right they can invade the skin, multiply and cause infection.

The conditions fungi like best are warm, moist and airless areas of skin, such as between the toes. The fungus also lives in other warm, wet conditions such showers and public swimming pools.  It is easily spread from person to person, or from sharing towels, socks etc.

Who gets athlete’s foot?

Anyone can get athlete’s foot. It is more common in people who sweat more, or who wear shoes and socks which make their feet more sweaty. Athlete’s foot can also be passed on from person to person.


  • The skin between the little toes tends to be affected at first
  • A rash develops that becomes itchy and scaly
  • The skin may become cracked and sore
  • Large splits (fissures) in the skin between the toes can develop, which can be very painful
  • The rash may spread gradually along the toes and sole if left untreated.

Is it serious?

Usually not.

Sometimes the infection spreads to the skin on other parts of the body. These are usually the moist and airless parts of the skin such as the groin.

Sometimes the infection spreads to the nail – this can be treated, but it can take several weeks of antifungal tablets to clear the infection from a nail.

How do you treat athlete’s foot?

  • Use a topical anti fungal treatment available from a pharmacy or your podiatrist. They are usually creams, sprays or powders
  • Your podiatrist can recommend one to you
  • Apply for as long as advised
  • Avoid preparations that contain steroids. Although this can help with itching, steroids may allow the fungal infection to spread
  • Antifungal tablets are sometimes used for severe cases.

You do not need to stay away from work, school or sports if you have athlete’s foot. However, in communal areas keep your feet covered.

You can’t take antifungal tablets if you’re pregnant or have certain conditions. They can damage your liver and interact with other drugs.

Risks of Not Treating Skin Infection

If the fungal infection is left it can spread to other parts of the body.  With damaged or broken skin, a secondary bacterial infection such as cellulitis may develop. Thus treatment of the fungal infection is very important.

Prevention of Athlete's Foot

Do's and Don'ts

Athlete’s foot can develop when your feet are constantly warm and damp. You’re more likely to get an infection if you wear trainers for a long time and have hot, sweaty feet.


  • Treat athlete’s foot as soon as possible to prevent spread to nails

  • Wash feet daily and dry thoroughly between the toes before putting socks on

  • Keep your feet clean and dry
  • Wear clean socks every day
  • Wear flip flops in showers at the gym or pool
  • Alternate between different shoes


  • Wear shoes that make your feet hot and sweaty
  • Share towels
  • Wear other people’s shoes