Athlete's foot

Athlete's foot is a common fungal infection that affects the feet. You can usually treat it with creams, sprays or powders from a pharmacy, but it can keep coming back.

Symptoms of athlete's foot

You may have athlete's foot if you have:

Athlete's foot on light brown skin. A hand holds open some toes. Between 2 toes is a scaly white patch.
Itchy white patches between your toes
Athlete's foot on white skin. Close-up of the bottom of a foot with a red flaky patch behind 1 of the toes.
Red, sore and flaky patches on your feet
Athlete's foot on white skin. Close-up of cracked skin between 2 toes. The crack is red and skin around it is white and red.
Skin that may crack and bleed

Athlete's foot can also affect your soles or sides of your feet. If it's not treated, it can spread to your toenails and cause a fungal nail infection.

It can sometimes causes fluid-filled blisters.

Causes of athlete's foot

You can catch athlete's foot from other people with the infection.

You can get it by:

  • walking barefoot in places where someone else has athlete's foot – especially changing rooms and showers
  • touching the affected skin of someone with athlete's foot

You're more likely to get it if you have wet or sweaty feet, or if the skin on your feet is damaged.

Treatment for athlete's foot

Athlete's foot is unlikely to get better on its own. But you don't usually need to see a GP.

You can buy antifungal medicines for it from a pharmacy. They usually take a few weeks to work.

You can keep using some pharmacy treatments to stop athlete's foot coming back.

It's also important to keep your feet clean and dry.

You don't need to stay off work or school as long as you follow this advice.

Antifungal medicines

Antifungal athlete's foot treatments are available as:

  • creams
  • sprays
  • powders

They're not all suitable for everyone. For example, some are only for adults. Always check the packet or ask a pharmacist.

You might need to try a few treatments to find one that works best for you.

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • treatments from a pharmacy don't work
  • you're in a lot of discomfort
  • your foot is red, hot and painful – this could be a more serious infection
  • you have diabetes – foot problems can be more serious if you have diabetes
  • you have a weakened immune system. For example, you've had an organ transplant or are having chemotherapy

Further tests

Your GP may take a small sample of your affected skin cells.

The sample will be sent to a laboratory to be tested in order to identify the exact type of fungi that is causing your infection. This will help them to prescribe the most appropriate treatment.

They may also refer you to a skin specialist called a dermatologist for more tests and treatment if needed. Your GP may also prescribe a steroid cream and anti-fungal tablets.

Self-management of athlete's foot

To treat athlete's foot and prevent it returning:

Do

  • dry your feet after washing them, particularly between your toes - dab them dry rather than rubbing them

  • use a separate towel for your feet and wash it regularly

  • take your shoes off when at home

  • wear clean socks every day - cotton socks are best

Don't

  • do not scratch affected skin – this can spread it to other parts of your body

  • do not walk around barefoot – wear flip-flops in places like changing rooms and showers

  • do not share towels, socks or shoes with other people

  • do not wear shoes that make your feet hot and sweaty

Keep following this advice after finishing treatment. This will help stop athlete's foot coming back.

Visit the Podiatry Ireland website for more information


Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Slaintecare logo
This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 17 April 2020
Next review due: 17 April 2023