Athlete's Foot

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What is an athlete's foot?

Athlete’s foot is a fungal skin infection that affects the feet and usually forms between the toes. It is typically treated with creams, powders or sprays which you can buy in drugstores or in pharmacies. In some people, it can cause burning, stinging, redness, and itching as well as flaking of the skin.

How do you get an athlete's foot?

Athlete’s foot is caused when the skin is exposed to a warm and moist environment, e.g. the inside of a shoe. Anyone can get athlete’s foot but certain situations can increase your risk of getting the infection, such as: 


  • Skin-to-skin contact with an infected person or surface
  • Visiting public places barefoot – swimming pools, showers, saunas and locker rooms
  • Wearing tight, closed-toe shoes
  • Having sweaty feet
  • Sharing towels, socks or shoes with an infected person
  • Having wet feet for a long period of time
  • Developing a skin or nail injury on your foot

When to see a doctor?

It’s recommended that you see a doctor if:


  • Over-the-counter treatments have not worked
  • Your foot or leg feels hot, painful or red (this could be a sign of a more serious infection)
  • The infection spreads to other parts of your body like your hands
  • You’re diabetic (foot problems can cause complications if you have diabetes)
  • You have a weakened immune system (e.g. if you’re having chemotherapy or have had an organ transplant) 


During your doctor’s appointment, your doctor may:

  • Send a small sample of your skin to a lab to check if you have athlete’s foot
  • Prescribe steroid creams to use with an antifungal cream
  • Prescribe you with antifungal tablets 
  • Refer you to a dermatologist for further treatment if necessary

Find out more about getting an online GP appointment for an athlete’s foot.

How to get rid of athlete’s foot

The symptoms of athlete’s foot are generally mild in most cases and the chances of needing to see a doctor are quite low. 


There are several ways that you can try to clear the infection at home:


  • Wash your feet often with soap and water, especially between the toes
  • Wash your towels regularly and avoid sharing them with others
  • To clear blisters, soak your feet in salt water and diluted vinegar
  • Wear clean, cotton socks and well-ventilated shoes
  • Keep your feet dry and change your shoes and socks regularly
  • Remove your shoes as soon as you have finished exercising or playing sports
  • Make sure your feet are completely dry after washing and before wearing socks, especially between your toes


Over-the-counter medications are available at pharmacies and drugstores which are usually effective at clearing up the infection. These can come in different forms such as:


  • Tablets
  • Powders
  • Sprays
  • Creams
  • Liquids 


If you find that your skin feels sore and there is a lot of swelling around the area, your doctor may recommend that you use hydrocortisone. These can be bought over the counter or online.


Most topical antifungal medications (those applied directly to the skin) can also be bought over-the-counter. If your symptoms are severe or the topical treatments didn’t work, your doctor may prescribe oral medications. 


Complications are usually rare as most athlete’s foot symptoms are mild so it’s important to treat the infection early to reduce the risks of getting any complications. If you leave the infection untreated for too long, it can cause further issues such as:


  • Fungal nail infections – untreated athlete’s foot can lead to a condition called onychomycosis where the nail becomes opaque, whitish and thick
  • Secondary bacterial infection – this can cause the foot to become hot, painful and swollen
  • Infected lymph system – the infection can spread to the lymph system 
  • Cellulitis – this is a bacterial infection that starts deep in the skin affecting the skin, fat and soft tissue and if left untreated this can lead to serious complications 
  • Allergies – some people develop allergies to the fungus that causes athlete’s foot which can result in blistering on the hands or feet

Can a pharmacist help with athlete's foot?

If your feet are displaying any of the symptoms above or they suddenly become painful and you think it could be a sign of an athlete’s foot, you should seek advice from your local pharmacist. They’ll be able to recommend over-the-counter medicines and topical treatments. 


Healthline: Athlete’s foot (Accessed 11 August 2022)


Medical News Today (Accessed 11 August 2022)


NHS: Athlete’s foot (Accessed 11 August 2022)

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