Athlete’s Foot

Athlete's FootAthlete’s foot can be a significant source of discomfort, frustration, and embarrassment. This common fungal infection leaves an itchy, scaly red rash that usually starts between the toes and often spreads to the tops or bottoms of the feet. Itchiness is often worst right after taking off your socks and shoes.

Severe cases of athlete’s foot can even create blisters, cracks, and ulcers, which are dangerous for patients with diabetes or otherwise compromised circulatory, nerve, or immune health.

Athlete’s foot can usually be treated at home. However, if your condition persists despite treatment, or if you are at increased risk of health complications, you should see us for further examination and treatment.

What Causes Athlete’s Foot?

Athlete’s foot is a skin infection caused by a group of fungi known as dermatophytes. The same fungi can also infect other areas of the body and cause related conditions, including ringworm, jock itch, and fungal toenails. Dermatophytes get their nutrition from keratin, a fibrous protein that is abundant in human skin, hair, and nails.

The fungi thrive in warm, humid conditions and spread through contact with contaminated surfaces or infected people. Common methods of transmission include:

  • Not changing socks fast enough when they get damp
  • Wearing shoes that are too small or are not well ventilated
  • Walking barefoot in public areas, especially where the fungus thrives (locker rooms, pools, saunas, etc.)
  • Sharing towels, linens, mats, etc. with others
  • Having another fungal infection (e.g., the fungi that cause fungal toenails or ringworm can spread to the feet and cause athlete’s foot)

How Can I Treat Athlete’s Foot?

Most cases of athlete’s foot can be cured using over-the-counter topical antifungal medications, such as terbinafine, clotrimazole, tolnaftate, or others. These medications may come in the form of ointments, sprays, or powders; we recommend the use of a cream or ointment, as the sprays and powders are the least effective form of treatment.

Make sure you read the instructions carefully and complete the full recommended treatment course on the packaging, even if symptoms subside earlier than indicated. There could still be fungi living on your skin, and you want to give yourself the best chance of eradicating them completely.

Athlete's foot infections can easily transmit the fungus to the toenails, which is much more difficult to treat. After the treatment course is completed, prevent the return of infection by maintaining good foot hygiene and avoiding risky behaviors, such as walking barefoot in public or wearing sweaty shoes or socks. You may wish to treat your shoes with antifungal powder daily as a precaution. Once you have an athlete's foot infection, you are always susceptible to recurrence. 

What Do I Do If Home Care Doesn’t Work?

In rare cases, athlete’s foot resists over-the-counter treatments. If home care isn’t working, or if your athlete’s foot is severe and causing blisters, ulcers, or pain, you should make an appointment with the Northwest Extremity Specialists. There are several other skin conditions that look or act like athlete's foot, and proper diagnosis is important.

Stubborn cases of athlete’s foot may require prescription-strength antifungal medications. These are often topicals but may include oral medications as well. It is also possible that your problem isn’t athlete’s foot at all, but a different condition that presents similar symptoms. Our examination will confirm the root cause of the problem and indicate an effective treatment solution.

To schedule your appointment, simply contact one of our offices close to your home or place of employment. We have several convenient Portland-area locations to serve you.