Athlete's foot, or tinea pedis (say: tin-ee-uh peh-dus), is a common skin infection that is caused by a fungus, a plant-like microorganism too small to be seen by the naked eye. This fungus eats old skin cells. And plenty of them can be found on the feet!
Although athlete's foot occurs mostly among teen and young adult guys, kids and women can get it, too. People with sweaty or damp feet are at risk. Walking barefoot where others also walk barefoot is one way the fungus can get on your feet in the first place. That's why your elders may advise you to wear your sandals when you're showering in a public shower.
Athlete's foot gets its name because athletes often get it. Why? The fungus that causes it can be found where athletes often are. The fungus grows on the warm, damp surfaces around pools, public showers, and locker rooms. People walk barefoot on these surfaces and fungus ends up on their feet. Or they might use a damp towel that has the athlete's foot fungus on it.
But just having the fungus on your feet isn't enough to cause the infection. The infection happens if conditions are right for the fungus to grow. The fungus likes it wet, so:
- Dry your feet properly after swimming, showering, or bathing.
- Do not wear tight shoes when your feet are sweaty.
- Do not wear the same pair of shoes or socks day after day.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms?
Cases of athlete's foot can be mild to severe. A person who has it may have a rash that itches and burns. Other signs and symptoms include:
- bumps on the feet
- cracked, blistered, or peeling areas, often between the toes
- redness and scaling on the soles of the feet
- skin between the toes may look "cheesy" and have an unpleasant odor
- a rash that spreads to the instep (inside part of the foot)
- raw skin from scratching (try not to scratch!)
Athlete's foot may spread to other parts of your foot, including your toenails. It can also infect other parts of the body — such as the groin (commonly called jock itch) and underarms — but only if someone scratches the infection and touches these places.