athlete's foot

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Athlete's Foot



A common fungus infection between the toes in which the skin becomes itchy and sore, cracking and peeling away. Athlete's foot (also known as tinea pedis or foot ringworm) can be treated, but it can be tenacious and difficult to clear up completely.


Athlete's foot is a very common condition of itchy, peeling skin on the feet. In fact, it's so common that most people will have at least one episode at least once in their lives. It's less often found in women and children under age 12. (Symptoms that look like athlete's foot in young children most probably are caused by some other skin condition).
Because the fungi grow well in warm, damp areas, they flourish in and around swimming pools, showers, and locker rooms. Tinea pedis got its common name because the infection was common among athletes who often used these areas.

Causes and symptoms

Athlete's foot is caused by a fungal infection that most often affects the fourth and fifth toe webs. Trichophyton rubrum, T. mentagrophytes, and Epidermophyton floccosum, the fungi that cause athlete's foot, are unusual in that they live exclusively on dead body tissue (hair, the outer layer of skin, and nails). The fungus grows best in moist, damp, dark places with poor ventilation. The problem doesn't occur among people who usually go barefoot.
Many people carry the fungus on their skin. However, it will only flourish to the point of causing athlete's foot if conditions are right. Many people believe athlete's foot is highly contagious, especially in public swimming pools and shower rooms. Research has shown, however, that it is difficult to pick up the infection simply by walking barefoot over a contaminated damp floor. Exactly why some people develop the condition and others don't is not well understood.
Sweaty feet, tight shoes, synthetic socks that don't absorb moisture well, a warm climate, and not drying the feet well after swimming or bathing, all contribute to the overgrowth of the fungus.
Symptoms of athlete's foot include itchy, sore skin on the toes, with scaling, cracking, inflammation, and blisters. Blisters that break, exposing raw patches of tissue, can cause pain and swelling. As the infection spreads, itching and burning may get worse.
If it's not treated, athlete's foot can spread to the soles of the feet and toenails. Stubborn toenail infections may appear at the same time, with crumbling, scaling and thickened nails, and nail loss. The infection can spread further if patients scratch and then touch themselves elsewhere (especially in the groin or under the arms). It's also possible to spread the infection to other parts of the body via contaminated bed sheets or clothing.


Not all foot rashes are athlete's foot, which is why a physician should diagnose the condition before any remedies are used. Using nonprescription products on a rash that is not athlete's foot could make the rash worse.
A dermatologist can diagnose the condition by physical examination and by examining a preparation of skin scrapings under a microscope. This test, called a KOH preparation, treats a sample of tissue scraped from the infected area with heat and potassium hydroxide (KOH). This treatment dissolves certain substances in the tissue sample, making it possible to see the fungi under the microscope.


Athlete's foot may be resistant to medication and should not be ignored. Simple cases usually respond well to antifungal creams or sprays (clotrimazole, ketoconazole, miconazole nitrate, sulconazole nitrate, or tolnaftate). If the infection is resistant to topical treatment, the doctor may prescribe an oral antifungal drug.
Untreated athlete's foot may lead to a secondary bacterial infection in the skin cracks.

Alternative treatment

A footbath containing cinnamon has been shown to slow down the growth of certain molds and fungi, and is said to be very effective in clearing up athlete's foot. To make the bath:
  • heat four cups of water to a boil
  • add eight to 10 broken cinnamon sticks
  • reduce heat and simmer five minutes
  • remove and let the mixture steep for 45 minutes until lukewarm
  • soak feet
Other herbal remedies used externally to treat athlete's foot include: a foot soak or powder containing goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis); tea tree oil (Melaleuca spp.); or calendula (Calendula officinalis) cream to help heal cracked skin.


Athlete's foot usually responds well to treatment, but it is important to take all medication as directed by a dermatologist, even if the skin appears to be free of fungus. Otherwise, the infection could return. The toenail infections that may accompany athlete's foot, however, are typically very hard to treat effectively.


Good personal hygiene and a few simple precautions can help prevent athlete's foot. To prevent spread of athlete's foot:
  • wash feet daily
  • dry feet thoroughly (especially between toes)
  • avoid tight shoes (especially in summer)
  • wear sandals during warm weather
  • wear cotton socks and change them often if they get damp
  • don't wear socks made of synthetic material
  • go barefoot outdoors when possible
  • wear bathing shoes in public bathing or showering areas
  • use a good quality foot powder
  • don't wear sneakers without socks
  • wash towels, contaminated floors, and shower stalls well with hot soapy water if anyone in the family has athlete's foot.



Thompson, June, et al. Mosby's Clinical Nursing. St. Louis: Mosby, 1998.


American Podiatric Medical Association. 9312 Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda, MD 20814-1698. (301) 571-9200.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

athlete's foot

a fungal infection of the skin of the foot; called also tinea pedis. It causes itching and often blisters and cracks, usually between the toes. Causative agents are Candida albicans, Epidermophyton floccosum, and species of Trichophyton, which thrive in warmth and dampness. If not arrested, it can cause a rash and itching in other parts of the body as well. It is often recurrent, since the fungus survives under the toenails (see tinea unguium) and reappears when conditions are favorable. Although athlete's foot is usually little more than an uncomfortable nuisance, its open sores provide excellent sites for more serious infections. Early treatment and health care supervision insure correct diagnosis and prevention of complications. Specific diagnosis is made by microscopic examination or culture of skin scrapings for the fungus.

Prevention includes keeping the feet dry and open to the air as much as possible, especially the areas between the toes. Small cotton pads may be used between the toes if this area is difficult to keep dry. Dusting powder may be used on the feet and sprinkled in the shoes to reduce accumulation of moisture. Topical fungicides may control cases in the early phases. For more severe cases, there are compounds such as griseofulvin taken by mouth, or topical preparations such as clotrimazole.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.

tin·e·a pe·dis

dermatophytosis of the feet, especially of the skin between the toes, caused by one of the dermatophytes, usually a species of Trichophyton or Epidermophyton; the disease consists of small vesicles, fissures, scaling, maceration, and eroded areas between the toes and on the plantar surface of the foot; other skin areas may be involved.
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012

athlete's foot

A contagious fungal skin infection caused by a species of Trichophyton or Epidermophyton that usually affects the feet, especially the skin between the toes, and is characterized by itching, blisters, cracking, and scaling; ringworm of the foot. Also called tinea pedis.
The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
A malodorous dermatophytosis affecting moist, warm toe webs and soles of feet; AF often occurs in athletes, especially in adolescent men, and causes maceration, flaking, peeling, erosion, and pruritus
Risk factors Poor hygiene, occlusive footwear, prolonged moisture of skin, minor skin or nail injuries; tinea infections are contagious, and can be passed through direct contact, or contact with items such as shoes, stockings, and shower or pool surfaces
Agents Trichophyton rubrum, T mentagrophytes, Epidermophyton floccosum
Management Drying; if recalcitrant, haloprogin, tolnaftate; if refractory, griseofulvin
Segen's Medical Dictionary. © 2012 Farlex, Inc. All rights reserved.

athlete's foot

Tinea pedis A malodorous dermatophytosis affecting moist, warm toe webs and soles of feet; AF often occurs in athletes, especially in adolescent ♂, and causes maceration, flaking, peeling, erosion, pruritus Risk factors Poor hygiene, occlusive footwear, prolonged moisture of skin, minor skin or nail injuries Agents Trichophyton rubrum, T mentagrophytes, Epidermophyton floccosum Treatment Drying, if recalcitrant, haloprogin, tolnaftate; if refractory, griseofulvin. See Jock itch, Tinea pedis, Tinea cruris.
McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

tin·e·a pe·dis

(tin'ē-ă ped'is)
Dermatophytosis of the feet, especially of the skin between the toes, caused by one of the dermatophytes, usually a species of Trichophyton or Epidermophyton; the disease consists of small vesicles, fissures, scaling, maceration, and eroded areas between the toes and on the plantar surface of the foot; other skin areas may be involved.
Synonym(s): athlete's foot.
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012
Enlarge picture

athlete's foot

A scaling, cracked, or macerated rash, typically found between the toes and usually caused by a fungal skin infection (such as tinea) although bacteria may also be involved. The rash is usually mildly itchy. Synonym: dermatophytosis; tinea pedisillustration;


The feet, esp. the webbing between the toes, should be carefully dried after bathing. Well-ventilated shoes and absorbent socks should be worn. Topically applied antifungal drugs, such as terbinafine, effectively treat the condition except when maceration is prominent and bacterial infection is also present. In these instances, oral antibiotics are needed.

See also: foot
Medical Dictionary, © 2009 Farlex and Partners

athlete's foot

A popular term for the fungus infection commonly occurring between the toes. The medical term is TINEA PEDIS.
Collins Dictionary of Medicine © Robert M. Youngson 2004, 2005

athlete's foot





a fungal disease caused by Epidermophyton floccosum. The fungus can cause irritation of other parts of the body apart from the feet and is parasitic or pathogenic on nails and skin in general. Athlete's foot is most common in adolescent males and infection is caused usually by walking barefoot on infected floors.
Collins Dictionary of Biology, 3rd ed. © W. G. Hale, V. A. Saunders, J. P. Margham 2005

Patient discussion about athlete's foot

Q. what else besides athletes foot can cause painful itchy burn tops of toes if the toes are bumped they throb and it hurts to flex toes, small red spots on toes

A. maybe only an allergic reaction is able to do so. but i would go on the athlete foot theory. or as they say "it's much more common to find horses and not zebras in America" 99% of the time it's an athlete foot. but it's o.k- it's relatively easy treatment.

More discussions about athlete's foot
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