7 Ways to Treat Athlete's Foot

Find out what causes athlete’s foot and 7 easy ways to treat and prevent these foot symptoms.

Sanaz Majd, MD
5-minute read
Episode #088
athlete's foot

Athlete’s foot (aka tinea pedis): it’s not the most embarrassing problem you can have, but it’s certainly not one you want to shout out from the rooftop. Yet even if you’re embarrassed by your medical symptoms, it shouldn’t keep you from talking to your doctor about them. I am always stunned to see patients live for years with certain conditions because they are too fearful to ask their doctor for help. Believe me when I tell you that there is no topic that is too embarrassing for physicians. We’ve heard and seen it all … especially about so-called “embarrassing” conditions much more frequently than you think. On a daily basis, I see patients with complaints of body odors, rashes, STDsitching, gases, sexual disturbances, and much more. You name the embarrassing symptom, and I’ve seen patients with it—again and again. 

That’s why I enjoy covering these sorts of topics. I know as a doctor how common they are and how many patients are afraid to speak up and ask about them. And I hope to help. So today I’d like to cover one of those topics that make many people squirm—athlete’s foot. Luckily, I have 7 tips on how to best treat this problem.

  1. Treat with fungal creams
  2. Soak in bleach and water
  3. Air out
  4. Avoid sweating
  5. Avoid walking barefoot
  6. Bleach your socks and shower
  7. Encourage close contacts to get treated

But how to approach your athlete's foot depends on your specific situation. Let's start at the beginning. 

What Is Athlete’s Foot?

According to a study published in BMJ Clinical Evidence15-25% of people are likely to contact athlete’s foot at one point or another. The culprit of athlete’s foot is not a virus or bacteria, but a fungus. The technical medical lingo for athlete’s foot is “tinea pedis.” Despite the name, athletes aren’t the only ones who experience athlete’s foot. The reason many athletes tend to contract this fungus on their feet is because they break a serious sweat, and they tend to walk around barefoot all over the locker room and shared public shower areas.

However, anyone at any age from childhood into adulthood can contract athlete's foot. Fungus lives everywhere your feet go: in the shower, on the floor, around the pool, and in our socks and shoes.

What Are the Symptoms of Athlete’s Foot?

Patients with athlete’s foot often describe the bottom of their feet and in between their toes as:

  • Cracked

  • Scaling

  • Itchy

  • Red

And sometimes when severe enough, athlete’s foot can even cause blisters on the feet. But those aren’t the only symptoms …

Those with athlete’s foot often (but not always) have fungal infections on other areas of their skin as well—such as in the groin, on the hands, or under the toenails or fingernails.

How Is Athlete’s Foot Best Treated?

The good news is that most athlete’s foot infections are easily treated and eradicated, unlike fungus on the scalp or other areas of the body which tends to be much more stubborn and difficult to get rid of. The real challenge is to prevent a re-infection once you’ve gotten rid of it. Here are my 7 Quick and Dirty Tips to fight athlete’s foot:

  1. Treat with Fungal Creams: Over-the-counter fungal creams, such as clotrimazole and miconazole, applied to the bottom of the feet and in between all toes for 1-4 weeks (depending on the severity of the infection) often does the trick to kill off the fungus setting up shop on your feet.

  2. Bleach Water Soaks: For better and faster results, I tell my patients to soak their feet in bleach water each night for 10 minutes. However, it’s important to not get carried away with the amount of bleach you mix in, as too much can actually burn your skin. I advise no more than 1 tablespoon of bleach in half a gallon of water. The soaks will help kill off the fungus.

  3. Air Out: During an acute bout of athlete’s foot, it’s helpful if you can let your feet air out as much as possible (without walking barefoot). Wearing open-toed shoes while your feet are recovering may be a good idea if you can tolerate it (unless it’s winter and you live on the East Coast, then I would not recommend wearing open-toed shoes). Also, don’t wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row; rotate between a few pairs to allow the others to air out.

  4. Avoid Sweats: Fungus loves moisture and heat. Keep your feet as dry as possible. If you happen to be an athlete or work out heavily, this may be more of a challenge. Pour a dash of antifungal powder on your feet before putting on your socks to help keep them dry. Carry extra pairs of socks with you, and wash your feet with soap and water and change your socks frequently if you tend to break a sweat. Change your socks at least once a day, whether or not you sweat.

  5. Avoid Walking Barefoot: Carry a pair of slippers with you to the gym, locker room, pool, hotels (especially the hotel showers), or any public places. And avoid walking barefoot even in your own home, whether or not you have athlete’s foot. These measures will help prevent re-infection. 

  6. Bleach Your Socks and Shower: I also recommend that anyone inflicted with a fungal infection of the toenails or feet bleach their socks and the bottom of the shower or tub once a week routinely. Again, the real challenge lies in prevention of future outbreaks, not so much treatment.

  7. Treat Close Contacts: If you live with or come into direct contact with someone who has a fungal infection, encourage them to get treated right away. This way, they can’t pass it off to you or to someone else.

For more tips on how to care for your feet, check out the five things you can do to ensure your feet stay healthy.

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Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only.  This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider.  Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

Medical Disclaimer
Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD

Dr. Sanaz Majd is a board-certified Family Medicine physician who graduated from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Her special interests are women's health and patient education. 

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