Athlete's foot, or tinea pedis (say: TIN-ee-uh PEH-dus), is a common skin infection that is caused by a fungus (say: FUN-guss). This fungus eats old skin cells. And plenty of them can be found on the feet!
Why Is It Called Athlete's Foot?
It's called athlete's foot because athletes often get it. 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 anyone can get this infection. 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 mom or dad might say to wear flip-flops when you're showering in a public shower.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Athlete's Foot?
Cases of athlete's foot can range from a little annoying to really uncomfortable. A kid who has it might have a rash that itches and burns. Other signs 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 also can infect other parts of the body — such as the groin (this is commonly called jock itch) and underarms — but only if someone scratches the infection and touches these places.
What Will the Doctor Do?
A doctor can usually figure out that you have athlete's foot by looking at the skin on your feet. Your doctor may swab or scrape off a skin sample to test for fungus or for bacteria, because sometimes other conditions can cause similar symptoms. Don't worry, this won't hurt — you have lots of extra layers of skin on your feet!
Treatment is usually simple. For mild cases, your doctor may have you apply a powder that contains medicine or cream that kills fungus. This should make your feet feel better in a few days. Sometimes you'll need to use the medicine for up to a month to get rid of the athlete's foot completely.
You'll also need to keep your feet dry and keep your shoes off as much as possible because fungus can't easily grow in dry, open air. If doing these things doesn't help clear up the infection, your doctor might prescribe a stronger medicine. This one will be the kind you swallow, not just something that you apply to your feet.
It's important to see a doctor about your athlete's foot because if it goes untreated, it will continue to spread, making your feet feel really itchy and uncomfortable and will become harder to get rid of.
How Can I Prevent Athlete's Foot?
Many people will develop athlete's foot at least once in their lives. Some will get it more often. To help avoid it:
Wash your feet every day.
Dry your feet well, especially between the toes.
Sometimes go barefoot at home — especially at night.
Avoid wearing tight or synthetic footwear that doesn't allow your feet to "breathe."
Wear sandals around pool areas, public showers, and gyms to steer clear of the fungus.
Wear socks that soak up wetness. Cotton is one material that does this.
Change your socks every day (or more often) if they get damp.
Ask your parent to buy antifungal powder to put in your sneakers or shoes.
Spray your shoes with a disinfectant and set them in out in the sun to help kill germs.
Don't share towels or footwear.
Keep home bathroom surfaces clean — especially showers and tubs.