Athlete’s Foot: Types, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment Options | Max Hospital

Athlete’s Foot: Types, Causes and Management

By Dr. Kashish Kalra in Dermatology

Jan 25 , 2024 | 4 min read

What is an Athlete's Foot?

Athlete's foot is a fungal infection characterised by an itchy, stinging, and burning rash on one or both feet. This condition typically affects the skin between the toes but can also impact the tops, soles, and heels of the feet. Athlete's foot is a type of ringworm, medically known as "tinea pedis," where "tinea" refers to ringworm and "pedis" denotes foot or feet.

Types of Athlete’s Foot Infection

Toe web

The most prevalent form, a toe web infection, affects the skin between the fourth and fifth toes. Individuals may observe changes in skin colour, cracking, peeling, or flaking in this region.


This variant impacts the soles, heels, and edges of the feet. Initial symptoms include soreness, followed by thickening and cracking of the skin on the soles. In rare cases, toenails may become infected, leading to thickening, fragmentation, and eventual loss.


Commonly affecting the soles but potentially appearing anywhere on the feet, a vesicular-type infection is characterised by the presence of bumps or fluid-filled blisters (vesicles).


The rarest type, an ulcerative infection, is marked by open sores (ulcers) that often appear between the toes and may also manifest on the soles of the feet. Open sores are a distinctive feature of this uncommon form of athlete's foot.

Symptoms of Athlete’s Foot

An athlete's foot has the potential to impact either one foot or both. Common signs and symptoms include:

  • The skin between the toes exhibiting scaliness, peeling, or cracking
  • Itchiness, particularly noticeable immediately after removing shoes and socks
  • Inflamed skin, with colour variations like red, purplish, or greyish, contingent on individual skin tones
  • Burning or stinging sensations
  • Presence of blisters
  • Dry, scaly skin on the underside of the foot, extending along the sides.

When to See a Doctor

If one has a foot rash that shows no improvement within two weeks of initiating self-treatment with an over-the-counter antifungal product, it is advisable to consult a doctor, preferably one specialising in athlete foot treatment or a dermatologist. For those with diabetes, seeking medical attention is recommended if there is suspicion of an athlete's foot. When experiencing severe symptoms, one should consider visiting the best dermatology hospital in India for comprehensive treatment options.

Causes of Athlete’s Foot

The fungi responsible for athlete's foot belong to the same category (dermatophytes) that causes ringworm and jock itch. Favourable conditions for their growth include damp socks, shoes, and warm, humid environments.

An athlete's foot is contagious and can be contracted through contact with an infected individual or exposure to contaminated surfaces like towels, floors, and shoes. Additionally, self-transfer to other body parts is possible, especially if one scratches or picks at the infected areas on the foot.

Risk Factors of Athlete’s Foot

Individuals are at a higher risk of athlete's foot if they:

  • Frequently wear enclosed footwear
  • Sweat heavily
  • Share mats, rugs, bed linens, clothes, or shoes with someone who has a fungal infection
  • Walk barefoot in public areas where the infection can spread, such as locker rooms, saunas, swimming pools, communal baths, and showers.

Diagnosis of Athlete’s Foot

Diagnosing an Athlete's foot may be accomplished through visual examination by a dermatologist in Delhi or elsewhere. Certain types of athlete's foot infections may resemble dry skin or dermatitis. To confirm the diagnosis and eliminate other possibilities, the doctor may opt to take a skin scraping from the affected area for laboratory testing.

Treatment of Athlete’s Foot

If the condition doesn’t respond to non-prescription products and self-care, consulting a doctor is recommended. In instances of a more serious infection, the doctor may prescribe antifungal pills. Treatment might involve a combination of both topical and oral medications, depending on the severity of the condition.

Prevention of Athlete’s Foot

To alleviate the symptoms of athlete's foot or prevent a recurrence, one should consider the following tips:

  • Maintain cleanliness and dryness: Cleanse the feet twice daily and gently towel-dry the areas between the toes.
  • Use antifungal products: Apply an antifungal product, such as terbinafine (Lamisil AT) or clotrimazole (Lotrimin AF), after washing and drying the feet. Experiment with different formulations, such as ointments, gels, creams, lotions, powders, or sprays, to find the most effective one. Follow the product's instructions, typically applying it twice a day until a week after the rash clears, with results visible in 2 to 4 weeks. If the condition recurs, resume application as needed.
  • Change socks regularly: Swap out socks at least once a day, increasing frequency if feet become excessively sweaty.
  • Opt for well-ventilated footwear: Choose light and well-ventilated shoes, avoiding synthetic materials like vinyl or rubber. Whenever possible, wear sandals to allow for proper aeration.
  • Rotate shoe pairs: Alternate between different pairs of shoes each day to allow adequate drying time.
  • Protect feet in public areas: Wear waterproof sandals or shoes in public spaces like pools, showers, and locker rooms.
  • Avoid scratching the rash: Soothe itchy feet by soaking them in cool water rather than scratching.
  • Do not share shoes: Refrain from sharing shoes to minimise the risk of spreading a fungal infection.

Final Words

If you or someone you know is dealing with symptoms of athlete's foot, it's essential to seek expert medical advice promptly. The specialists at Max Hospitals are equipped to offer personalised care and guidance, ensuring an accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment options for athlete's foot. Don't let discomfort or hesitation hold you back from seeking help. Reach out to the dedicated professionals at Max Hospitals to receive the support and specialised care needed to address athlete's foot effectively, restoring your comfort and overall well-being.

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