Athlete's foot (tinea pedis) is a fungal infection that causes a rash on the skin of the foot. It is the most common fungal skin infection.
There are three main types of athlete's foot. Each type affects different parts of the foot, looks different, and may be treated differently. While some people who have athlete's foot do not notice it, others develop severe symptoms.
Athlete's foot is caused by a fungus. Fungi commonly grow on or in the top layer of human skin and may or may not cause infections. Fungi grow best in warm, moist areas, such as the area between the toes.
Athlete's foot is easily spread (contagious)-you can get it by touching the affected area of a person who has it. More commonly, you pick up the fungi by going barefoot in shared areas, such as swimming pools or locker rooms. The fungi then grow in the warm and moist environment of your footwear, especially if it is tight so that little air can move around your feet.Some people are more likely to develop athlete's foot (susceptible) than others. Experts don't know why this is. Once you have had athlete's foot, you are more likely to get it again.
If you come in contact with the fungi that cause athlete's foot, you can spread the fungi to others, whether you develop the infection or not.
Athlete's foot symptoms can vary greatly. While some people have severe discomfort, others have few or no symptoms. Symptoms also vary depending on the type of athlete's foot you have.
Toe web infection (interdigital) usually occurs between the fourth and fifth toes. The skin becomes scaly, peels, and cracks. If the infection becomes severe, bacteria are usually present, which cause further skin breakdown (maceration).
Moccasin-type infection may begin with minor irritation and then progresses to thickened, cracked skin on the sole or heel. In severe cases, the toenails become infected and can thicken, crumble, and even fall out.
Vesicular infection (blisters) usually begins with a sudden outbreak of large fluid-filled areas under the skin. The blisters most often develop on the skin of the instep but may also develop between the toes, on the heel, or on the sole or top of the foot. This type may also be accompanied by a bacterial infection.
In most cases, your health professional can diagnose athlete's foot by looking at it. He or she will also ask about your symptoms and any previous fungal infections you have had. If your athlete's foot looks unusual or if a previous case did not respond well to treatment, your health professional may take a skin or nail sample to test for fungi.
Not all skin problems on the foot are athlete's foot. If you suspect that you have athlete's foot but have never had it before, it's a good idea to have your health professional look at it.