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Athlete's Foot

Please be aware that, unless you have developed a foot wound, it is unlikely your referral for treatment of Athlete`s foot will be accepted. If you are diabetic or are on immunosuppressant medication(s), please consult with your GP or pharmacist before applying any over the counter medication on your feet.


What is athlete’s foot?

Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection of the skin that can lead to intense itching, cracked, blistered or peeling areas of skin, redness and scaling. It can occur on moist, waterlogged skin, usually between the fourth and fifth toes initially, or on dry, flaky skin around the heels or elsewhere on the foot. Large painful fissures can also develop and the condition can also spread along all five toes and sometimes to the soles of the feet if left untreated.

What causes it?

It is caused by a number of fungal species that you can pick up from someone else shedding infected skin, typically in communal areas such as pools, showers and changing rooms, or anywhere that you walk around barefoot. Athlete’s foot can also be passed on directly by person to person contact, although people who sweat more are more prone to infection.

Once your feet have been contaminated, the warm, dark and sweaty environment of feet in shoes or trainers provides the ideal breeding ground for the fungus. However, athlete’s foot also occurs in dry, flaky areas. It’s quite common in summer with sandal wearers. The sun makes your skin dry out so it loses its natural protective oils. This combined with the constant trauma from sandals makes your feet more prone to infection.

Who gets it?

It’s not called athlete’s foot for nothing! Walking barefoot around swimming pools and spending your life in trainers may make you more likely to pick it up, but you do not need to be an athlete to get this condition.

Is it serious?

If left untreated, the fungus can spread to the toe nails, causing thickening and yellowing of the nail, which is much harder to treat. Fungal infections are highly contagious and can spread to anywhere on your skin, including your scalp, hands and even your groin. This is especially likely if you use the same towel for your feet as for the rest of your body. 

What are the treatments?

It is always best to treat this condition as soon as symptoms are first noticed. Treatments depend on what type of athlete’s foot you have. Over-the-counter remedies are always a good starting point, and your GP or podiatrist can also recommend suitable treatments.

How can I prevent it?

The most important tip for preventing athlete’s foot is to ensure your feet are completely dry after washing them and before you put your shoes and socks on. However, there are many things you can do to make your feet less hospitable to fungal infections.

  • Firstly, change your footwear on a regular basis. There’s no point treating your feet if you constantly re-infect them by putting them into damp, fungally infected shoes. It takes 24-48 hours for shoes to dry out properly, so alternate your shoes daily

  • If you really have to wear the same pair day after day (say, if you’re on holiday), dry them out by using a hairdryer on a cold setting; this will get rid of the perspiration quickly without creating more heat. To help shoes dry out more quickly, take any insoles out, loosen any laces and open your shoes out fully so that air can circulate. When buying, choose trainers with ventilation holes

  • If your shoes are so tight that they squeeze your toes together, this allows moisture to gather between your toes and encourages fungus. Instead, let air circulate between the toes by choosing footwear with a wider, deeper toe box and choose shoes made from natural materials. Of course, you should also change your socks daily

  • Wear flip-flops in the bathroom and in public showers. This will ensure that you don’t leave any shed skin for others to pick up, and it will also stop you picking up other species of fungus

  • Finally, never wear anyone else’s footwear

When should I see an NHS podiatrist?

If you have any foot health concerns and think this may potentially lead to a complication then please consider discussing a podiatry referral with your GP.

If your foot becomes red, hot or swollen, with new pain, with or without a wound please ask your GP to refer you to Podiatry.

This content was produced by the College of Podiatry.

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