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Core Knowledge


All About Athlete's Foot


Athletes' foot is a common contagious fungal infection of the feet that can spread to other parts of the body. In most people, it is an irritating, but controllable skin disease that lasts only a few days. In others, athlete’s foot is a life-long problem that comes and goes, and one that requires prescription medication.

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How It Happens

The body is a host for all kinds of bacteria and fungi, including the fungus that causes athletes' foot. It thrives in a warm, moist environment, which is where athletes and exercisers spend lots of time (locker rooms, showers, whirlpools, and swimming pools). A contagious disease like athlete’s foot can be spread by direct or indirect contact, including shoes, socks, stockings, and wet surfaces.

By the Numbers

Percentage of the general population that has athletes' foot

Percentage of swimmers who contract athletes' foot

Percentage of boys and men over the age of 16 who contract athlete’s foot

Who’s At Risk?

Athletes and exercisers who wear closed shoes, keep their feet sweaty or wet for long periods of time, sweat a lot or develop a minor skin injury are in the high-risk group for contracting athlete’s foot.


  • Itching, burning, or stinging feeling between the toes
  • Itching, burning, or stinging feelings on the soles of your feet
  • Blisters that itch
  • Scaly lesions
  • Skin that cracks or peels
  • Excessive dryness of skin on the bottoms and sides of your feet
  • Toe nails that are thick, ragged, yellowish, or pulling away from the nail bed

Initial Treatment

  • Apply over-the-counter creams that contain miconazole, clotrimazole or telnaftate. Trade name anti-fungal creams are Lamisil and Lotrimin, among others
  • Continue using the topical medication for 1-2 weeks after symptoms subside.
  • Keep your feet clean and dry, especially between the toes.
  • Wear clean cotton socks.
  • Change shoes and socks often enough to keep your feet dry.

How to Avoid This Condition

  • Don't walk barefoot in public areas such as locker rooms and around swimming pools.
  • Wash your feet with soap every day.
  • Dry your feet thoroughly after swimming and bathing.
  • Change socks regularly (to prevent a moist environment around your feet).
  • Alternate pairs of shoes (to allow time for each pair to dry).
  • Avoid tight-fitting shoes when possible (to let air in).
  • Use anti-fungal powders on your feet and in your shoes.
  • Don't wear borrowed shoes.

Jim Brown, Ph.D. has written 14 books on health, medicine, and sports. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, New York Post, Sports Illustrated for Women and Better Homes & Gardens. He also writes for the Duke School of Medicine, UCLA School of Medicine, Cleveland Clinic and Steadman-Hawkins Research Foundation.

Tags: Swimming, Foot, Injury Prevention, Soreness


  1. American Academy of Dermatology
  2. British Medical Journal
  3. eMedicineHealth
  4. MayoClinic.com