Athlete's Foot: Symptoms, Causes and Home Remedies 

Athlete’s foot is sometimes referred to as ringworm of the foot or tineapedis and is a fungal infection affecting the top layer of skin on the foot. It more commonly occurs when it is irritated, moist, and warm.

This condition is the most common fungal infection and will usually develop between the toes but can also start on other areas of the feet. Symptoms of athlete's foot usually include itching, stinging and/or burning. Despite being contagious, you can easily treat athlete’s foot using over-the-counter medications.

Symptoms of Athlete's Foot

No matter the type of athlete’s foot a person has, the symptoms of athlete's foot always have something in common, like itching and/or burning. There will also be redness, breaking down or softening of the skin, and blisters in addition to scaling, cracking, and peeling. There are 3 main types of athlete’s foot and each has its own unique symptom variations.

  • Toe web infection: this is the most common variety of athlete’s foot and usually happens between the 2 toes which are the smallest. It frequently starts with skin which is soft, moist, and pale white. In addition to itching and burning, it can also have a slight odor and get worse. If this happens, the skin will become scaly, crack, and peel. In severe cases, there may be a bacterial infection.  
  • Vesicular infection: this type of infection is the least common and usually starts with sudden blisters underneath the skin which are fluid-filled. They usually occur on the instep but can also show up on top, on the sole, on the heel, or between the toes. It will sometimes reoccur either in the same area or on the fingers, chest, or arms instead. It can come with a bacterial infection and there may be scaly skin between consecutive eruptions of the infection.
  • Moccasin-type infection: this is a chronic infection that starts with minor scaly skin, burning, itching, dryness, or irritation. It eventually worsens to skin that is peeling, cracked, scaling, and thickened on either the heel or sole. In some severe cases, a person’s toenails may thicken, crumble, or fall out. It can also affect the palm of a person’s hand as well.

When to See a Doctor

Anytime that you have a rash on your foot and it doesn’t get better within several weeks following your self-treatment, contact your doctor. You should see your doctor sooner if you have diabetes or have excessive fever, drainage, swelling, or redness.

Causes of Athlete's Foot

Athlete’s foot is usually caused by one of two fungi. Trichophyton mentagrophytes can lead to vesicular or toe web infections that appear suddenly and although severe, are treated easily. The other fungus, trichophyton rubrum leads to moccasin-type infections which are hard to treat and chronic.

You develop athlete’s foot if you have contact with the fungus which then grows on the skin. Fungi are common on the skin’s top layer but don’t always cause infections. They thrive in moist, warm areas, like that between the toes.

Athlete’s foot is contagious and the most common way to get it is from contaminated damp surfaces such as locker rooms or public showers. Despite being contagious, some people are more prone to athlete’s foot than others and older people may have an increased risk. You can spread the fungi even if you don’t develop athlete’s foot.

Medications for Athlete's Foot

Usually the first medication to try will be topical antifungal ones. You can get either prescription or over-the-counter medications so most people start with the non-prescription option. Some cases may need oral antifungal pills for treatment, but doctors only recommend this in severe cases due to its cost and potential side effects as well as lack of a guaranteed cure. Anytime you have medication for athlete’s foot, you must use the entire treatment so the infection doesn’t return.

Some of the most common non-prescription antifungals include tolnaftate, terbinafine, miconazole, and clotrimazole. Prescription medications may include naftifine, clotrimazole, and butenafine. There are also prescription oral antifungals like terbinafine, itraconazole, and fluconazole. Some medications work faster than others but generally these are more expensive.

Leaving athlete’s foot untreated leads to the possibility of skin cracks or blisters that can cause a severe bacterial infection. It also includes your risk of spreading the condition.

Home Remedies for Athlete's Foot

Medical treatments are great to root out the causes and symptoms of athlete's foot. But sometimes home remedies are good enough to get rid of this annoying condition. 

1. Stay Away from Moisture

Keep in mind that the fungus behind athlete’s foot prefers warm, dark, and moist environments. So you should always aim to keep your feet dry.

2. Dry Thoroughly Between Your Toes

When drying your feet, be sure to get the area between your toes thoroughly dry. You can always use a hairdryer set to “warm” to completely dry them.

3. Use Soap

Be sure to wash your feet two times a day using soap and water before drying them completely.

4. Soak Your Feet in Betadine

In cases where your infection includes cracks and redness, there may be a bacterial infection in addition to the fungal one. As long as you are not pregnant, you can soak your feet in a quart of warm water with two caps of Betadine for twenty minutes a day. Afterwards, dry your feet and use antifungal medication.

5. Don't Bleach

Avoid any home remedy that includes bleach or any other strong solvent or chemical. Other specific products to avoid using include floor cleaners and alcohol as any of these can severely damage the skin.

6. Choose Shoes with Care

Try to go barefoot (or opt for sandals with an open toe) when possible as long as you are not in an area that is moist. Always be sure to go with opened-toed shoes when you have to wear them. Do not use rubber or plastic watertight shoes. If you have to wear shoes that are closed-toed, go with breathable and natural materials like leather. Never share shoes with someone.

7. Everyday Items That Really Help

  • Garlic: Garlic has antifungal properties. You can either eat it or put garlic juice on your foot two times daily.
  • Immune-boosting foods: Eat foods that boost your immune system like scallions, red meats, and broccoli to help your immune system fight off infection.
  • Vinegar: Try soaking your feet in 2 quarts water and a cup of vinegar for between 15 and 30 minutes. You can also apply a solution of equal parts vinegar and water.
  • Salt: Another useful soak is saltwater made from a teaspoon salt and a cup of water. Do this for ten minutes.

A pharmacologist gives advice on how to treat athlete's foot: