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Alternative Names Return to topTinea pedis; Fungal infection - feet; Tinea of the foot; Infection - fungal - feet; Ringworm - foot
Definition Return to top
Athlete's foot is an infection of the feet caused by fungus. The medical term is tinea pedis. Athlete's foot may last for a short or long time and may come back after treatment.
Causes Return to top
The body normally hosts a variety of microorganisms, including bacteria and fungi. Some of these are useful to the body. Others may, under certain conditions, multiply rapidly and cause infections. Athlete's foot occurs when a particular type of fungus grows and multiplies in your feet (especially between your toes) or, less commonly, your hands.
Of the fungal infections known as tinea infections, Athlete's foot is the most common. It may occur at the same time as other fungal skin infections such as ringworm or jock itch. These fungi thrive in warm, moist areas. Your risk for getting athlete's foot increases if you:
Athlete's foot is contagious, and can be passed through direct contact, or contact with items such as shoes, stockings, and shower or pool surfaces.
Symptoms Return to top
The most common symptom is cracked, flaking, peeling skin between the toes. The affected area is usually red and itchy. You may feel burning or stinging, and there may be blisters, oozing, or crusting. In addition to the toes, the symptoms can also occur on the heels, palms, and between the fingers.
If the fungus spreads to your nails, they can become discolored, thick, and even crumble.
See also: Fungal nail infection
Exams and Tests Return to top
The diagnosis is based primarily on the appearance of your skin. If tests are performed, they may include:
Treatment Return to top
Over-the-counter antifungal powders or creams can help control the infection. These generally contain miconazole, clotrimazole, or tolnaftate. Continue using the medicine for 1 - 2 weeks after the infection has cleared from your feet to prevent the infection from returning.
Athlete's foot almost always responds well to self-care, although it may come back. To prevent future infections, follow the steps listed in Prevention.
Severe, ongoing infections that don't respond to 2 - 4 weeks of self-care, and frequently recurring athlete's foot, may require further treatment by your health care provider. Stronger, prescription antifungal medications may be needed. These include topical medicines, like ketoconazole or terbinafine, and pills. Antibiotics may be necessary to treat secondary bacterial infections that occur in addition to the fungus (for example, from scratching).
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Athlete's foot infections range from mild to severe and may last a short or long time. They may persist or recur, but they generally respond well to treatment. Long-term medication and preventive measures may be needed.
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your doctor right away if:
Also call your doctor if athlete's foot symptoms do not go away within one month of using self-care measures.
Prevention Return to top
To prevent athlete's foot, follow these measures:
References Return to top
Habif, TP. Clinical Dermatology. 4th ed. St. Louis: Mosby; 2004.
Long SS, Pickering LK, Prober CG, eds. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Elsevier, 2003.Update Date: 4/12/2007 Updated by: Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Associate, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.