Athlete’s foot is a common, reasonably annoying fungal infection that’s very easily spread. It thrives in the type of damp, humid environments that you might encounter in pools, public showers, locker rooms, and within sweaty sneakers. Hence the name, athlete’s foot.

Athlete’s foot is typically not a serious condition, but it can be painful, itchy, and unsightly.

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Athlete’s Foot Causes

The fungus that causes athlete’s foot thrives in damp, warm areas. Contact with a contaminated surface, such as a shower floor, locker room, swimming pool, or the feet and toes of someone who has the condition can result in infection. Tight, sweaty shoes that don’t have adequate airflow can also help the fungus grow after initial contact.

Signs of Athlete’s Foot

You may rightly suspect that you have athlete’s foot if you notice that your feet are exhibiting one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Itching and burning
  • Cracked, scaly skin, especially between the fourth and fifth toe
  • Unusual thickness of the sole of the foot or toenails, accompanied with cracking and crumbling. You may also lose your toenails as they crumble and fall out.
  • Blisters appear all over the foot, usually concentrated on the sole.

Athlete’s Foot Risk Factors

Certain factors might make you more likely to contract athlete’s foot, including:

  • Men are more likely to get the infection than women.
  • Those who have weakened immune systems and the elderly are more susceptible.
  • People who live in warm climates are more vulnerable to athlete’s foot.

You can reduce your risk of getting the infection by avoiding public showers or locker rooms unless you are wearing protective shower shoes.

You can also sport athletic shoes that allow for adequate air flow, preventing the risk of fungal growth. Always ensure your feet are completely dry after they get wet. And avoid activities that make your feet wet for prolonged periods of time.

RELATED: What Is Toe Jam?

Athlete’s Foot Treatment

Fortunately, the diagnosis for athlete’s foot is pretty simple: Your physician can typically diagnose it just by looking at the foot.

You may also be able to identify the condition and treat it with an over-the-counter athlete’s foot cream that contains an antifungal agent. These creams are applied to the infected area and the condition should resolve within a few weeks.

There may be a few cases where the fungal infection is more stubborn, requiring an oral antifungal pill from your doctor and/or prescription-strength antifungal cream.

If your case is severe, or if you have the blisters associated with athlete’s foot, you may also get a bacterial infection that may need to be treated with oral antibiotics or a topical antibiotic ointment.

You should keep your feet clean and dry, and avoid re-exposing it to the fungus again, as once you have had athlete’s foot, you are more likely to get it again.

Contact the UPMC Department of Dermatology for more information or to make an appointment, or connect with UPMC eDermatology to get quick medical advice without a trip to the doctor’s office.

About Dermatology

The UPMC Department of Dermatology diagnoses, treats, and manages numerous hair, skin, and nail conditions and diseases. We care for common and uncommon conditions, and our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We operate several specialty centers for various conditions. The UPMC Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center is a comprehensive dermatologic laser facility, offering a full range of cosmetic services and procedures. With UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, we offer a Skin Cancer Program that provides complete care from screenings, diagnosis, treatment, and beyond. Find a dermatology provider near you.