Athlete’s foot is a common fungal infection of the foot.

An itchy red rash develops in the spaces between your toes. The affected skin may also be scaly, flaky and dry.

The medical name for athlete’s foot is tinea pedis.

Read more about the symptoms of athlete's foot

When to see your GP

Athlete’s foot is usually mild and can be easily treated using antifungal medication, available from your pharmacy (see below).

You only need to see your GP if the infection doesn't clear up, although pharmacists often prefer a diagnosis to be confirmed in children.

What causes athlete's foot?

Harmless bacteria and fungi live naturally on your skin, but if these organisms multiply, your skin can become infected.

A group of fungi called dermatophytes is responsible for athlete’s foot. Dermatophytes live in and feed off dead skin tissue.

Your feet provide a warm, dark and humid environment – ideal conditions for the fungi to live and multiply.

Athlete's foot spreads very easily. It can be passed from person to person through contaminated towels, clothing and surfaces.

The fungi can survive and multiply in warm and humid places, such as swimming pools, showers and changing rooms. 

Read more about the causes of athlete's foot.

Treating athlete's foot

Most cases of athlete’s foot are mild and can be treated at home using self-care techniques (see below) and antifungal medication.

With effective treatment, athlete’s foot usually only lasts for a few days or weeks. Antifungal medication clears the fungi that cause the infection. It's available as:

  • creams
  • sprays
  • liquids
  • powders
  • tablets

Read more about treating athlete's foot.

Complications of athlete's foot

If athlete's foot isn't treated, the infection may spread to your toenails, causing a fungal nail infection, or to other areas of your body, such as the palms of your hands.

The fungi that cause athlete's foot usually only grow on the surface of the skin. However, if your skin is cracked, other germs can enter it, leading to a more serious bacterial infection.

Read about the complications of athlete’s foot.

Preventing athlete's foot

It's not always possible to prevent athlete’s foot. However, good foot hygiene can reduce your risk of developing the condition.

Follow the advice below to help treat and prevent athlete’s foot.

  • Wash your feet regularly using soap and water.
  • After washing your feet, dry them thoroughly, paying particular attention to the areas between your toes.
  • Wear clean cotton socks.
  • Change your socks and shoes regularly to help keep your feet dry, particularly after exercising.
  • Don't share towels and wash your towels regularly.

Read more about preventing athlete's foot.

Look after your feet

Your feet take the weight of your whole body, so foot problems can quickly lead to knee, hip and back pain. In this video, a podiatrist talks about the importance of caring for your feet and explains some of the most common foot problems and treatments.

Media last reviewed: 22/11/2013

Next review due: 22/11/2015

Who gets athlete's foot?

Anyone can get athlete’s foot, but it's more common in teenagers and adult males. It's less common in women and children under 12 years of age.

It's not known why some people are affected by athlete’s foot more than others. However, people who exercise regularly are more at risk of developing the infection because it's easily spread in communal areas, such as showers and changing rooms.

Wearing tight-fitting trainers during sport and exercise can also make your feet warmer and moister than usual. This provides an ideal environment for the fungi to thrive.

Page last reviewed: 16/01/2014

Next review due: 16/01/2016