Athlete’s Foot: Types, Causes & Symptoms


What Is Athlete`s Foot?

Athlete`s foot is an infectious fungus that affects the skin on the feet. The fungus that causes an athlete’s foot is known as trichophyton and is commonly found in clothing and on floors. This infection can also spread to the toenails and the hands. It commonly occurs among individuals that have sweaty feet, especially within tight-fitting shoes. It is termed athlete’s foot because it is commonly seen in athletes. It is not a serious condition, but sometimes it is difficult to cure it. People who have a weak immune system or are diabetic are advised to see their doctor immediately if they suspect having this condition.

Types of Athlete’s Foot

There are four categories of athlete’s foot; let`s discuss them.

Toe Web Infection

Also known as interdigital infection, this infection occurs between the fingers and toes. It usually starts on the skin between the fourth and fifth toes. Toe web infection causes a burning sensation between the toes; the skin may also be red, scaly, have a rash, and even smell. In some bad conditions, the skin may have a green color.

Moccasin Infection

In this type of condition, the fungus covers the sole of the foot. Rashes will spread
up the side of your foot and along the heel. The feet may feel sore, dry, and itchy,
and with time, the skin thickens, cracks, and peels. This infection can also advance
to the nails; the toenails get thick and crumbly and sometimes the nails come off.

Vesicular Infection

The vesicular infection often comes as blisters known as vesicles. Once the blistersburst, one can get a bacterial infection. The infection can occur anywhere on the foot; most times, small red blisters usually pop up on soles or between the toes. The rash is usually painful and itchy.

Ulcerative Infection

The ulcerative infection is a rare type of athlete’s foot that develops ulcers or open sores. The ulcers open due to an infection by bacteria. The sores may most times ooze discharge, as the skin gets inflamed and discolored. The ulcerative infection is usually painful.

Causes of Athlete’s Foot

feetAthlete’s foot is caused by the tinea fungus. This virus can be contacted when one comes in close contact with an already infected person or by touching surfaces contaminated with the fungus. Damp shoes, socks, and warm humid conditions attribute to the growth of the organism. This fungus is commonly found around swimming pools, showers, and locker room floors. Other causes of athlete’s foot include; bacterial infection, erythrasma, intertrigo, contact allergy, yeast infection, and psoriasis.

Risk Factors of Athlete`s Foot

Anyone can have athlete’s foot, however, there are certain behaviors that increase the risk of contracting the fungus. Some people are at high risk of getting athlete’s foot; here`s why:

  • Sharing mats, rugs, bed linens, clothes, shoes, socks, or towels with an infected person
  • Sweaty feet
  • Frequently wear damp socks or tight-fitting shoes
  • Walking barefoot in areas where the infection can spread such as showers, saunas,
    swimming pools.
  • Keeping your feet wet for an extended period of time
  • Having minor nail or skin injury on the foot

Symptoms of Athlete’s Foot

  • Having blisters on your feet that itch
  • Stinging, itching, and a burning sensation between the toes or on the soles
  • Having dry skin on your soles or by the side of your feet
  • Thick, discolored, and crumbly nails
  • Peeling and cracking skin on your feet is common between your toes and soles
  • Raw skin on your feet

Complications of Athlete`s Foot

Athlete’s foot can lead to complications which can be mild or severe, and the infection can spread to other parts of the body such as:

The Hand

People who usually scratch or pick at the infected parts of their feet are most likely to develop a similar infection on one of their hands.

The Groin

Once the fungus is on a towel or your hands, it is possible that it can travel to your groin area, which will eventually cause itching around that area.

The Nails

The fungi associated with athlete’s foot can also affect the toenails.

Other severe complications that can occur if a secondary bacterial infection develops are swollen, hot, and painful feet. In some cases, it can lead to fever and pus. Here are some other results of such complication:


Some people are allergic to the fungus and this can cause blistering on the hands or feet.


This is a bacterial infection that goes deep in the skin. The skin`s fat and soft tissue can be affected. If left untreated it can lead to serious complications such as bone infection or septicemia (blood poisoning).

Diagnosis for Athlete’s Foot

The symptoms of athlete`s foot usually determine its diagnosis. A skin lesion potassium hydroxide exam is one of the most common tests for athlete’s foot. A doctor scrapes off a small area of the infected skin and places it in potassium hydroxide; this will help destroy normal cells and leave the fungal cells, making it easy to see under a microscope.

How to Treat Athlete`s Foot


Most times, athlete’s foot can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) topical antifungal medications. If these medications are not effective, other treatments like topical or oral prescription-strength antifungal medications or home treatments can be recommended by a doctor to treat the infection. Some antifungal medications that can help in the treatment of athlete’s foot include powders, liquids, creams, tablets, and sprays.

Some of the over-the-counter topical medications include:

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

Some of the prescription medications include:

  • Oral antibiotics; if bacterial infections occur because of raw skins and blisters
  • Topical, prescription-strength Clotrimazole
  • Topical steroid medications; will help reduced painful inflammation
  • Oral antifungal medications like itraconazole (Sporanox), prescription-strength
    terbinafine (Lamisil)

How to Prevent Athlete`s Foot

Preventing athlete`s foot is definitely a better option. Here are some preventive measures you can observe to avoid the condition.

  • Wash your feet thoroughly with soap and water every day.
  • Dry your feet thoroughly after washing them, especially between the toes.
  • Put some antifungal powder on your feet after drying them.
  • Don`t share socks, towels, or shoes with other people.
  • Wear well-ventilated shoes or shoes made of breathable materials.
  • Wash socks, beddings, and towels properly.
  • Disinfect your shoes with disinfectant wipes or sprays.
  • Allow air on your feet by going barefoot while at home
  • Always change your socks frequently when your feet become sweaty.
  • Protect your feet in public places by wearing sandals in public showers or around
    public swimming pools.
  • You can also alternate between two pairs of shoes every other day; this will give
    your shoes time to dry out between uses.

Now that you Know…

Athlete’s foot is caused by the same type of fungus that causes jock itch and ringworm and commonly occurs in people whose feet have become sweaty from being in a confined space. It can also be mild or severe, while some may clear up easily, others may take a long time before it heals completely. It is advised to observe a long-term treatment with antifungal medications to prevent athlete’s foot infections from returning. Have you noticed you have athlete`s foot? Please seek medical attention asap.