How Athlete’s Foot is Contracted

The name athlete’s foot sheds light on the origins of this skin condition, but don't let the name trick you. Anyone can get this itchy, bothersome condition, not just athletes.  In fact, about 70% of people will get athlete's foot at some point in their life. This makes the fungal infection, typically one that begins between the toes, very common.  To put this percentage into perspective, the United States sees more than 3 million cases per year.  The prevalence of this fungal infection is due to the fact that anyone can get athlete's foot if these two simple things happen:

  1. Bare feet are exposed to the ringworm fungus.
  2. Feet are kept in warm humid conditions or environment, like sweaty sneakers, that favor the fungal growth.

This common skin infection, athlete's foot, is also known by its scientific name tinea pedis.  Athlete’s foot is actually caused by the same fungus that is to blame for jock itch and ring worm.  In the case of athlete’s foot, the fungus preys on old skin cells, plentiful on the feet. The rash that appears on the affected foot, or feet, presents as red and scaly and can cause extreme discomfort for those affected.  The skin infection is most common in young teens and male young adults.  But, it is critical to note anyone can be affected as long as the conditions are conducive to the ringworm fungus.  Anyone with sweaty or damp feet is at high risk, along with those who walk barefoot and are exposed to the fungus. This is a big reason why we’ve all been told to wear shoes or flip flops in public showers, around pools, and in locker rooms.  Walking barefoot on these surfaces increases your chances of the fungus finding its way onto your feet. 

Signs and symptoms:

Symptoms of athlete’s foot include:

  • Itchy, burning rash
  • bumps on the feet
  • cracked, blistered, or peeling areas (often between the toes)
  • redness and scaling on the soles of the feet
  • unpleasant odor of the feet
  • spreading of rash to the inside of the foot
  • raw skin from constant scratching

In more severe cases, athlete's foot can spread to other parts of the foot, including the toenails, and in more extreme cases infect other parts of the body like the groin and underarms.  This occurs from touching the contagious infection and then touching other parts of the body with the right environment for the infection to take hold. 

Just remember, just having your feet exposed to the ringwork infection is not enough to cause athlete’s foot.  The proper environment, one that is hot and damp, needs to exist for the fungus to grow. 

Here’s how to avoid the burning of athlete’s foot:

·         Dry your feet well after swimming, showering, or bathing.

  • Change shoes and socks regularly to make sure you aren’t wearing damp sweaty shoes or socks
  • Try to wear loose and breathable shoes when the feet are hot and sweaty.


Most cases of this fungal infection can be treated with over the counter medication like an antifungal spray or cream.  In more severe cases, where these treatment do not work or the infection has spread, severe cases, anti-fungal pills or antibiotics may be prescribed.