Health A to Z
Athlete's foot is a rash caused by a fungus that usually appears between the toes.
The affected skin may be itchy, red, scaly, dry, cracked or blistered. It's not usually serious, but should be treated to stop it spreading to other parts of the body or other people.
Treatment usually involves pharmacy-bought creams, sprays or liquids and good foot hygiene.
The medical name for athlete's foot is tinea pedis.
Athlete's foot most commonly affects the skin between the toes or on the bottom of the feet.
Affected areas of skin may be:
The infection can spread around your foot and to your toenails – read more about fungal nail infections. Scratching the infected skin and then touching other parts of your body can also spread the infection.
In severe cases, skin damaged by athlete's foot can become infected with bacteria. This can lead to cellulitis, which causes the skin to become red, hot and swollen.
Athlete's foot is caused by fungi growing and multiplying on the skin. The fungi that cause the infection thrive in warm, dark and moist places like feet.
You're more likely to get athlete's foot if you:
Athlete's foot can easily spread to other people by touching infected skin or coming into contact with contaminated surfaces or objects.
Athlete's foot is unlikely to get better on its own. It can usually be treated using antifungal treatments available from pharmacies without needing to see a GP.
Antifungal treatments work by stopping the fungus causing your athlete's foot from growing. They come in creams, sprays, liquids and powders, and are used in the following way:
Antifungal treatments are similarly effective, although some work faster than others. A pharmacist can recommend an antifungal medicine that's safe for you to use. Not all types are suitable for children, older people, and pregnant or breastfeeding women.
If your rash is very sore and itchy, a pharmacist may recommend using a mild steroid cream to ease any discomfort, but this should only be used for a short period and in combination with antifungal treatment.
Contact your GP if your athlete's foot doesn't start to improve after a week of treatment, or if it's causing significant pain or discomfort. Your GP may take a small skin sample for testing and recommend stronger antifungal medicines, including tablets.
It's also important to practise good foot hygiene during treatment to speed up recovery and prevent athlete's foot returning.
You can reduce your risk of developing athlete's foot by:
If you or your child develops athlete's foot, there's no need to stay off work or school. Follow the advice above to reduce the risk of spreading the infection to others.