Athletes Foot

Causes, Symptoms and Treatments for Fungal Infections (Tinea Pedis)

Athlete's Foot (tinea pedis) is a fungal skin infection that affects the feet, toes and sometimes hands. It is commonly seen in athletes, however, other factors other than exercise can cause symptoms. Whilst it is not deemed serious, it is a contagious infection that can be treated with creams and ointments.

What is athlete's foot?

Athlete's foot is a contagious fungal infection.

Its medical name is tinea pedis, although it's commonly known as athlete's foot, as it's often seen in sportsmen and women. This is due to them frequenting places where the fungi causing this condition live (gyms, locker rooms, communal showers etc).

The condition affects approximately 15% of the population and is most common in young men. However, everyone is susceptible to athlete's foot, so we should all exercise good foot hygiene.

The infection usually presents as a rash on the foot and is closely linked to other fungal infections, such as ringworm and jock itch.

It may infect any part of the foot, but most often grows between the toes or on the soles of the foot.

The affected area is usually red, itchy, scaly, cracked or blistered, but this does depend on the type of infection and your individual reaction to it.

While this is typically not a serious condition, you should treat it quickly to stop the infection spreading to other parts of your body or to other people.

See your GP immediately if you have diabetes or a weak immune system and think you might have athlete's foot.

Otherwise, try over-the-counter anti-fungal treatments to clear the infection. Only visit your GP if your condition doesn't change after a week of treatment, or you have an allergic reaction.

Topical (rub-on) cream treatments usually take around 4 weeks to clear the infection.

What causes athlete's foot?

Athlete's foot is caused by a variety of fungi growing and then multiplying on the skin. They usually belong to a group called dermatophytes, but in rare cases can be caused by non-dermatophytes, such as yeast.

You can catch athlete's foot either through direct contact with an infected person or by touching surfaces that are already contaminated with the infection.

The fungi that cause the infection thrive in warm, dark, moist places; that's why damp socks and shoes are a common cause of this condition.

You are more likely to get athlete's foot if you:

  • Have bad foot hygiene – e.g. feet and toes that are regularly dirty and damp
  • Wear tightfitting shoes that make your feet hot and sweaty
  • Walk barefoot in communal areas where fungal infections spread easily (showers, gyms, swimming pools, and changing rooms)
  • Share socks, towels and shoes with others
  • Have a weakened immune system
  • Have other health conditions, such as diabetes

Scratching the infected skin, then touching other parts of your body can spread the infection. Therefore, it is very important to avoid scratching and clean your hands regularly.

What are the symptoms of athlete's foot?

This contagious fungal infection typically affects the skin between the toes or on the soles of the feet.

The affected areas of skin can be:

  • Dry, red, scaly or flaky
  • Itchy
  • Sore
  • Covered in small blisters
  • White, soggy and cracked

The itching caused by athlete's foot is usually at its worst immediately after taking off your shoes and socks.

Severe cases where the skin has been damaged by athlete's foot can result in a bacterial infection. This in turn can lead to cellulitis which causes the skin to become red, hot and swollen. This requires additional treatment.

There are four kinds of athlete's foot infection, although all can be treated with anti-fungal medicines. They are:

  • Toe web infection – Also known as an inter-digital infection, this usually starts between your fourth and fifth toes. You may feel a burning sensation, and the skin might be red, peeling or scaly. The rash can smell and there may be accompanying discharge. In severe cases, the skin may have a greenish hue.
  • Moccasin infection – This is where the infection covers the sole of your foot. It may also spread up the side of your heel and up the side of your foot. At first, your foot may feel sore, dry or itchy, but after a while the skin will thicken, crack or peel. This infection often infiltrates your toenails, causing them to become thick and crumbly or fall out.
  • Vesicular infection – This form of athlete's foot involves several small, red blisters forming on the foot. If they burst, it could result in a bacterial infection which requires antibiotics. This type of infection is more common in the summer months.
  • Ulcerative infection – This is the least common form of athlete's foot and is when the foot develops sores or ulcers. These may ooze discharge and your skin may get inflamed, discoloured and painful. In this case, you will need antibiotics to remove the risk of bacterial infection.

All forms of athlete's foot can spread around your foot and into your toenails, often pulling them away from the nail bed.

It can also spread to your hands and fingernails, especially if you scratch the affected area. In addition, it can be transmitted to other areas of the body; most commonly, your groin. If this occurs, contact your GP immediately.

How to treat athlete's foot

Athlete's foot does not tend to improve on its own, even if you change your footcare routine.

There are many at-home remedies for athlete's foot, but the most effective way to treat the rash is through anti-fungal medicine from a pharmacy, and by improving your foot hygiene.

Anti-fungal medicines are available as creams, sprays or liquids. They stop the fungi causing your athlete's foot from multiplying.

It's best to apply treatment as soon as you experience any itching, as this will prevent the infection from spreading.

This is how most anti-fungal treatments should be used:

  • Wash and dry the area before using your chosen treatment
  • Apply the treatment directly to the affected skin and the surrounding area
  • Clean your hands after every treatment to avoid spreading the infection

Continue the treatment as instructed in the information leaflet that accompanies your medicine, even if the rash goes away. This will ensure that all the fungi have cleared.

Most anti-fungal treatments are similarly effective, although some work faster than others. Ask a pharmacist to recommend which anti-fungal medicine is best for you.

Not all treatments are suitable for children, older people and pregnant or breastfeeding women.

If your rash is sore and itches, despite your anti-fungal treatment, try a mild steroid cream to help your discomfort. Only use this for a small amount of time and in conjunction with your existing anti-fungal treatment.

Talk to your GP after a week of treatment if your athlete's foot doesn't improve or is causing significant pain or discomfort.

Your doctor may test a small skin sample, or recommend stronger anti-fungal medicines, including tablets.

If you have diabetes, you must visit your doctor as soon as you think you have athlete's foot. Also, look out for excessive redness, swelling, drainage or fever. These could be symptoms of a secondary bacterial infection which will need to be treated.

How to buy Athlete's Foot medication online

Athlete's Foot can be treated with topical antifungal medications applied directly to the area. These can be prescription medications or over-the-counter treatments, both of which are available online.

To verify your suitability for the treatment, we ask for a short questionnaire upon purchase. This is a one-off consultation and you'll receive your package discreetly.