Skin issues

What Does Athlete’s Foot Look Like: Symptoms, Causes, and Best Treatment Options

Last Updated on 20/09/2023 by Liz @ HealthTenfold

Athlete’s foot got its name because it’s a condition commonly seen in athletes. Medically referred to as tinea pedis, it is a bothersome fungal infection that affects the feet. It usually starts from between the toes and can spread to the toenails and even to the hands and groin. It’s a common condition and affects about 15% of the general population.

It is a contagious skin infection and can be spread from one person to another through the sharing of clothing, shoes, and towels or walking barefoot on contaminated floors.

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What Does Athlete’s Foot Look Like?

Athlete’s foot is characterized by a scaly, red, and itchy rash that causes a burning or painful sensation. Some people may experience fissures on the toe webs or blistered soles that are very painful. 

The type of athlete’s foot known as moccasin causes long-lasting dryness and scaling that could be confused for dry skin or eczema. 

Your toenails may become thick, discolored, and may come off their nail beds.  

The itching often increases once you put off your shoes or socks and picking on the infected areas is what causes the infection to spread to your hands. 

What Causes Athlete’s Foot?

Athlete’s foot is caused by the tinea fungus growing on your feet. The tinea fungus is also responsible for causing ringworms and jock itch. You get the fungus by coming into contact with an infected person or items or surfaces with the fungus. Places most likely to have the fungus include gyms, nail salons, locker rooms, public showers, or areas surrounding swimming pools.  
The tinea fungus thrives in warm and humid places so it often grows in people with sweaty feet who wear tight-fitting shoes. 

Athlete’s foot can also be caused by a yeast infection, erythrasma, contact allergy, dyshidrotic eczema, bacterial infection, intertrigo, and sometimes psoriasis. 

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Risk Factors of Getting Athlete’s Foot

Your chances of contracting athlete’s foot are high if you:

  • Wear tight-fitting footwear and damp socks
  • Share clothes, towels, or shoes with a person with a fungal infection
  • Walk barefoot in locker rooms, public showers, swimming pools, and saunas
  • Your feet sweat excessively 
  • Leave your feet moist for extended periods
  • Get pedicures from contaminated nail salons
  • Patients with diabetes. High levels of blood sugar increase the risk of getting fungal infections and also encourage their growth

How to Treat Athlete’s Foot?

Athlete’s foot can be treated using over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal medication, prescription antifungal medication, or natural home remedies. 

OTC Medication
Over-the-counter antifungal topical medication is usually in powder, ointment, spray, or lotion form. Athlete’s foot responds well to them and may not require further treatment afterward. There are several antifungal medications you can easily find at a pharmacy and they include:

  • clotrimazole (Lotrimin)
  • miconazole (Desenex)
  • butenafine (Mentax)
  • terbinafine (Lamisil)
  • tolnaftate (Tinactin)
  • naftifine (Naftin)
  • efinaconazole (Jublia)
  • ciclopirox (Loprox)
  • ketoconazole (Nizoral)

You should continue to use the drugs for at least 1 week or up to 4 weeks after the symptoms have cleared to ensure the infection will not reappear. 

To choose the most effective antifungal medication, consult a pharmacist before buying them over the counter. The cost of the drug is also an indicator of its effectiveness so be on the lookout.

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Prescription Medication
For more serious cases of athlete’s foot, the doctor may prescribe oral antifungal pills like itraconazole or terbinafine and topical medication in prescription strength. 

Topical steroids may be prescribed to help in cooling down inflammation. They are usually not used for athlete’s foot caused by fungi but for the non-infectious sources. When used on fungal infections, they promote the growth of the fungus and make the infection worse. 

Oral antibiotics are administered in case of a bacterial infection due to blisters and raw skin.

For athlete’s foot that has spread to the toenails, the nails should be treated to eliminate the possibility of the infection recurring. The treatment of nails is a little more involving and takes 3-4 months for the infection to completely disappear.

Natural Remedies for Athlete’s Foot

Athlete’s foot usually responds very well to natural remedies so you can try them with some readily available ingredients in your home. 


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Hydrogen Peroxide
It treats athlete’s foot by killing the fungus on the surface of the skin. It also kills bacteria that could lead to infections. To make the hydrogen peroxide even more powerful, add iodine to it. 

On its own, you can pour the hydrogen peroxide directly to the affected area. It may sting and form bubbles if you have an open wound. Repeat this twice daily until the infection is gone. When using iodine alone, dilute it because it may damage your skin.
Mix the hydrogen peroxide and iodine in a basin and dip your feet in the solution. You can also soak a cotton ball and dab it to the affected areas. 

Tea Tree Oil
It contains both antifungal and antibacterial properties so it helps in killing fungi. It is also effective in treating other fungal infections like ringworms. Tea tree oil is potent and may irritate your skin so you need to mix it in a carrier oil like coconut or olive oil.  
Apply the mixture on the infected area twice a day until it heals. 

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Garlic kills fungi and stops it from growing further. It also has antibacterial properties. Take 4 or 5 cloves of garlic and crush them and put them in a large bowl of warm water. Soak your feet in the solution for 30 minutes 2 times a day for 1 week. You can also apply the crushed garlic directly to the affected skin instead.
The downside of this remedy is that it leaves a strong garlic smell on your skin which you may not like.

Neem Oil
Neem tree extracts have strong antifungal properties. Massage the neem oil directly on the infected skin twice or thrice a day. You can also apply it under the toenails to treat infections that have spread there.

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Baking Soda
Baking soda has wonderful antifungal properties that will help you fight athlete’s foot. Measure half a cup of baking soda and pour it into a basin of warm water. Soak your feet in the water for 15-20 minutes. When done do not rinse your feet, just dry them.   
Talcum Powder
It helps your feet stay dry so fungus has a hard time growing and spreading. Before you put on socks, apply the talcum powder on your dry feet. After taking a bath, you can use a hairdryer to dry your feet and sprinkle talcum powder after that. Avoid inhaling the talcum powder.

Sea Salts Baths
Sea salts are known for their great antifungal and antibacterial properties. You can mix sea salt with vinegar to make it even more effective. Fill a cup with sea salt and empty it into warm water for a foot bath. Soak your feet for 20 minutes and dry them thoroughly afterward. 

Vicks VapoRub
It is made with menthol and eucalyptus which have great antifungal properties. Massage it on the infected area before you sleep until the infection goes away. 

Rubbing Alcohol  
Applying rubbing alcohol directly on the affected area will help in killing fungus. You can also make a mixture of 30% water and 70% rubbing alcohol and soak your feet in it for 30 minutes.

What Happens When Athlete’s Foot is Untreated?

When athlete’s foot is left untreated, the infection will spread to the toenails and other areas of the skin such as your palms. Therefore, you should begin treatment as soon as you notice the first symptoms.

When to See a Doctor?

If you have been treating athlete’s foot and the infection doesn’t improve within a week, you should seek medical attention.

You should also see a doctor if you have diabetes and you’ve noticed signs of a secondary bacterial infection. These signs include redness, swelling, drainage, and bleeding. These symptoms are dangerous more so because of nerve damage.   

Athlete’s foot is a very treatable condition so you don’t have to wallow in misery and embarrassment. Start your treatment regimen today!

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