Athlete's foot

Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Rhianna McClymont

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Athlete's foot is a common skin infection that affects the feet. Despite its name, it doesn't just affect athletes, and anyone can get it.

What causes athlete's foot?

Athlete's foot is caused by a fungus. Funguses tend to do well in warm, moist environments, so the spaces between your toes are the ideal place for them to grow. If your feet are damp or sweaty when you put on your socks and shoes, you have a higher risk of getting athlete's foot.

Athlete's foot symptoms

Athlete's foot usually appears on the skin between your toes, but it can also develop on the soles or sides of your feet.

Common athlete's foot symptoms are:

  • White patches in the between your toes

  • Red, flaky or crusty patches of skin on the feet, which can be sore

  • Cracked or bleeding skin on your feet

  • Itchy skin

Other symptoms may include:

  • Small, fluid-filled blisters on the skin

  • Infected toenails - This happens when athlete's foot isn't treated, and the infection spreads. A separate treatment is needed if you get a fungal nail infection.

Is athlete’s foot contagious?

Athlete's foot is contagious and easily passes from person to person, including family members. You can also catch it from:

  • Walking barefoot on floors (including swimming pools and saunas) that have been contaminated by the fungus

  • Sharing towels, socks, or shoes with someone who already has the fungus

  • Touching the skin of someone who has athlete's foot

Athlete's foot treatment

Athlete's foot is treated with an antifungal medication. These come in various forms, like athlete's foot creams, sprays, or powders – and are available over the counter at the chemist. Ask the pharmacist for a treatment that's suitable for you. Athlete's foot treatments usually take a few weeks to work, and you may need to try a few different things to see what works best.

How to treat athlete's foot at home

It's essential to practice good foot hygiene to treat your athlete's foot and prevent it from coming back once it's been successfully treated. You need to make sure you:

  • Dry your feet thoroughly after washing them, particularly the spaces in between your toes

  • Wear clean socks every day (a breathable material is best)

  • Avoid wearing shoes when you're at home

  • Don't wear shoes that make your feet too hot

  • Leave your shoes to dry out completely before wearing them again (especially if your feet are prone to sweating)

  • Wear flip-flops in public areas like changing rooms or swimming pools

  • Avoid sharing towels with others

  • Don't scratch the affected skin – This may cause it to spread to other areas of your body

When to see a GP

  • You should make an appointment to see a GP if:

  • You've been using an over-the-counter cream for several weeks and seen no improvement

  • Your infection is causing you pain or preventing you carrying out your normal daily activities

  • Your foot develops a rash that's very red, hot to the touch, tender or leaking fluid - This can be a sign of a secondary skin infection which needs other treatment

  • You have diabetes – If you're diabetic, good foot-care is essential. You may require a stronger treatment to clear up the infection

  • You have a weakened immune system (for instance, are undergoing chemotherapy or are taking immune-suppressing drugs)

  • In rare cases, the GP may refer you to a skin specialist (called a dermatologist).

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Rhianna McClymont, Lead GP at Livi