What to Do for Athlete's Foot

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man bending over with foot pain

Athlete’s foot is a common fungal infection also known as tinea, or ringworm. Because ringworm and most other fungi thrive in dark, moist conditions—such as inside a sweaty sock—getting rid of athlete’s foot can be a challenge. Learn how to relieve the pain and discomfort of athlete’s foot with natural remedies and medical treatments available at the store or by prescription. 

Athlete’s Foot Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of athlete’s foot include: 

  • Dry, cracked skin on the feet

  • Peeling skin

  • Itching or burning

  • Redness

  • Inflammation and swelling

  • Blisters, which may crack open and peel

  • Scaly red rash

Athlete’s foot can range from mild to severe. Some people have just a bit of scaly, peeling skin; others have extensive irritation on both feet. 

Athlete’s Foot Treatment 

Without treatment, athlete’s foot can spread:. The same fungus causes both athlete’s foot and jock itch, and the infection can travel from one place to another via a towel or washcloth. Fortunately, this common infection is usually easy to treat. 

Treatment options include:

  • Natural remedies. Many people use tea tree oil to treat athlete’s foot. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, “A limited amount of research indicates that tea tree oil might be helpful for…athlete’s foot.” You can apply the oil directly to the affected areas. Most people tolerate tea tree oil well, but if you develop any additional irritation, stop using the oil and see a physician. Bitter orange oil is another natural remedy for athlete’s foot. Like tea tree oil, it can be applied directly to the skin.

  • Good foot hygiene is an essential part of athlete’s foot treatment as well. Wash and dry your feet thoroughly each day, being careful to dry between the toes. Consider applying talcum powder to your feet before pulling on a clean pair of socks; the powder helps absorb excess moisture. Whenever possible, remove your shoes and socks so your feet can air out. However, do not walk barefoot on damp surfaces like swimming pool decks and locker room floors. Instead, wear flip-flops to prevent the spread of infection.

  • Over-the-counter medicine. Non-prescription antifungal medicine is widely available and highly effective in treating athlete’s foot. Most drugstores have a whole shelf full of antifungal creams, lotions and powders. Medicines commonly used to treat athlete’s foot include clotrimazole, miconazole, terbinafine and ketoconazole. At least one of those words should be listed on the ingredient label. Follow directions for use. Most over-the-counter products are designed to be used daily over 2 to 4 weeks. If your symptoms don’t improve with treatment, see your healthcare provider.

  • Prescription medicine. If home remedies and over-the-counter medicine aren’t sufficient to clear the infection and control your symptoms, a doctor can help. He or she can prescribe topical treatment that’s stronger than what’s available at the store. In some cases, oral antifungal medicine is also required to eliminate the infection. A doctor can also evaluate your symptoms and give an expert diagnosis. Sometimes, people mistakenly think they have athlete’s foot when they actually have a bacterial foot infection, which requires a different type of medicine.

  • People who have diabetes should always seek medical attention for athlete’s foot because diabetes interferes with healing and sensation and an apparently simple infection can quickly turn into something more serious. 

    With treatment, most cases of athlete’s foot will resolve within a month.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Nov 3
  1. Athlete’s Foot. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/athletesfoot.html
  2. Athlete’s Foot. American Podiatric Medical Association. https://www.apma.org/Patients/FootHealth.cfm?ItemNumber=978
  3. Athlete’s Foot. Nemours Foundation. https://kidshealth.org/en/kids/athletes-foot.html
  4. Athlete’s Foot. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/athletes-foot/symptoms-causes/syc-20353841?p=1
  5. Treatment for Ringworm. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/ringworm/treatment.html
  6. Athlete’s Foot (Tinea Pedis). Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/athletes-foot-tinea-pedis-a-to-z
  7. Tea Tree Oil. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health https://nccih.nih.gov/health/tea/treeoil.htm
  8. Bitter Orange. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health https://nccih.nih.gov/health/bitterorange

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