Athlete’s Foot Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Even if you’re not an “athlete”, you can still get Athlete’s Foot – and it’s never fun. And guess what? Athlete’s Foot can spread! Tinea pedis, commonly known as Athlete’s Foot, is the leading cause of itching, burning and irritation on the soles of the feet and skin between the toes. It is one of the most common foot conditions we see and treat here at the Foot and Ankle Center of Washington.

Athlete’s Foot is a contagious infection typically caused by fungus.  Left untreated, not only can Athlete’s Foot spread to other people, but also to other areas of your body. In fact, Athlete’s Foot is the most common cause of fungal toenails. Most cases of Athlete’s Foot can be treated at home but, if the infection persists, you may need to seek medical attention. The foot care experts at the Foot and Ankle Center can easily treat a more stubborn case of tinea pedis.

The best home treatments for Athlete’s Foot can be found below.

What Caused Your Athlete’s Foot Infection?

As mentioned above, Athlete’s Foot is a fungal infection on your feet, most commonly picked up in a locker room or common shower. It doesn’t spontaneously develop – you must be exposed to catch it. Athlete’s Foot is passed from one person to another, which makes it a communicable disease. It is most often passed along in a moist environment where people walk barefoot. Gyms, bathrooms, carpets, lockers rooms, hot tub areas, swimming pools and nail salons are common exposure locations.

Sharing footwear, such as flip flops, or sharing towels can expose you – as can wearing someone else’s dirty socks or shoes. Most commonly, it’s caused by walking barefoot on a surface after someone with the infection walked barefoot there. Some people are more prone to Athlete’s Foot than others. The fungus thrives in warm, moist environments – wearing flip flops or shower shoes in high-risk areas can protect you.

What Are Common Symptoms of Athlete’s Foot?

Some people have no symptoms or mild symptoms such as dry skin on the soles of the feet to indicate they have Athlete’s Foot. Other symptoms can include:

  • Cracked or blistered skin and/or yellow toenails
  • Redness or a rash on the bottom of the feet
  • Itching, scaling, and reddening of the skin on the bottom of the feet and between the toes
  • ore severe infections cause cracking of the skin, pain or bleeding
  • Sometimes, you may notice blistering or thick patches of reddish skin

If you’ve ever had Athlete’s Foot, you’ll know it. If you haven’t, you don’t want it. And, if you scratch your feet, you may spread the infection to your hand and notice a rash or itching there as well.

What Are the Best Home Treatments for Athlete’s Foot?

When treating Athlete’s Foot at home, it is best to begin as soon as you notice any of these symptoms as this is a persistent fungus. The most effective home treatments are a combination of anti-fungal soap, and anti-fungal topical creams, sprays, powders, or gels along with proper socks and shoes. You must make your feet inhospitable to the infection and this means keeping them clean and dry.

Fungus grows best in a moist environment. So your goal when treating this problem is to both kill the fungus and keep your feet dry. Follow our six step Athlete’s Foot Home Treatment Plan for best results:

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athletes foot pedifix fungal soap 1. Wash your feet every day with an anti-fungal soap such as Pedifix FungaSoap.
smelly sweaty feet tripod antifungal cream 2. Every night before bed, wash your feet and then apply an Athlete’s Foot cream such as Tolnaftate Anti-Fungal Cream.
3.  Try to alternate your shoes – never wear the same pair two days in a row.
 smelly sweaty feet shoe sanitizer 4.  Use an Ultraviolet Shoe Sanitizer. The new ShoeZap shoe sanitizer kills the odor-causing germs that reside inside your shoes with an ultraviolet light (UVC). In only one 45 minute treatment, you can destroy up to 99.9% of the microorganisms in shoes, including the bacteria and fungi that cause foot odor, toenail fungus, and Athlete’s Foot. It is designed for people who have shoe odor, foot odor, Athlete’s Foot (tinea pedis) and toenail fungus.
 prevent fungus medline antifungal powder  5. Use an anti-fungal powder in your shoes. A good one is ZeaSorb Antifungal Powder. Use it two to three times per week in any shoes you wear regularly.
 athletes foot smart knit x static sock  6. Avoid cotton socks – cotton holds moisture next to your skin. Instead, wear socks that wick moisture away from your feet.

In addition, several studies shown that copper infused socks can help to kill and prevent the fungus that causes athlete’s foot. (1, 2)  Our recommended copper infused sock is Kodal Copper Infused Socks.

These socks also wick moisture away from your feet and are made with a copper fiber. The silver is naturally anti-microbial and these  socks safely inhibit the growth of odor causing bacteria and fungi.  Available in many colors and styles.

Beyond these treatments, take care not to share footwear or towels at the gym. You should also wear flip flops (that are used only by you) in all wet common areas of your gym including showers, sauna, spa, bathrooms or the pool. If you prefer a homeopathic treatment, try mild vinegar soaks. Moisture wicking socks, sterilized shoes and footwear that allow your feet to breathe are also helpful.

When Should You See Us for Treatment of Athletes Foot?

If the recommended home treatment plan does not provide relief of your Athlete’s Foot within three weeks, make an appointment to see us in our Seattle office. You may have something other than Athlete’s Foot or you may need prescription medication. We’ll diagnose your problem and provide the appropriate treatment.

Our first goal is to ensure that the infection you have is really Athlete’s Foot or another skin condition. For example, your infection may be bacterial and not fungal. Standard Athlete’s Foot treatments will not work on a bacterial infection. Once we determine the correct diagnosis, we’ll develop a treatment plan to take care of the condition and relieve your discomfort fast.

After trying home treatment for a few weeks, if it is not working, or you experience any of the following circumstances, don’t delay in contacting us for diagnosis and advanced treatment:

  • Itching is ongoing, not improving, is severe or worsening
  • The infected area is getting larger
  • The infection has spread to the toenails
  • You also have toenail fungus
  • You notice skin changes or blisters that are not getting better

The same fungus causes both Athlete’s Foot and thick, fungal toenails. These conditions must be treated at the same time and treatment must involve toenails and the surrounding skin of the toes and feet. This often requires stronger medicines than you can get over-the-counter.

How Will We Diagnose Your Athlete’s Foot Infection?

To confirm that you really do have Athlete’s Foot and not another skin condition that shares similar symptoms and appearance, we start with a physical examination of your feet. This usually allows us to make a diagnosis. If there is a chance it may be another ailment, we may take a skin scraping from your feet to determine which type of fungal infection is present and to determine the best treatment option to clear up your infection quickly.

How Do We Treat Your Athlete’s Foot Infection?

The severity of your infection and your level of discomfort will determine the course of treatment we take. Here is an overview of what your treatment may include:

  • Prescription topical medications – These are stronger and much more effective than those you get over-the-counter.
  • Prescription oral medications – In rare situations, when Athlete’s foot is extremely stubborn, oral medications are necessary. Most of the time these medications work extremely well to treat even the most chronic cases of tinea pedis.
  • Shoe sterilization – We may also give you a prescription or recommend products to kill the fungus inside your shoes.
  • Risk factors – We will treat any underlying problems that contribute to Athlete’s Foot such as excessive sweating.
  • Related problems – We will treat associated conditions. For example, if you develop a bacterial infection along with the fungal infection, this must also be treated.
  • Preventative self-care – We will teach you techniques to prevent the problem from returning.

Don’t wait to get treated. If your feet are itching or you have any skin problems with your feet, contact the expert podiatrists at the Foot and Ankle Center of Washington for an appointment. We are conveniently located near Swedish Medical Center on First Hill. Call us at (206) 344-3808 or click here to schedule online.


  1. Copper-impregnated socks: A novel therapeutic option for combating occupational dermatophytosis  Med J Armed Forces India.  2021 Oct
  2. Treatment of tinea pedis with socks containing copper-oxide impregnated fibers.  The Foot.   Volume 18, Issue 3, September 2008, Pages 136-141


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