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Athlete's foot

Written by Healthwords's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 21.02.2023 | 2 min read

Athlete's foot is a fungal skin infection that sets up residence in warm, moist areas such as the feet and between the toes. Known medically as tinea pedis, it produces symptoms of a rash that is usually red, sore, and itchy, with clear edges that can form a ring-like pattern, giving it its other name of ringworm. It can also occur in other sweaty areas, such as the crease of the groin, where it is known as tinea cruris or jock itch.

What medicines are available to treat athlete’s foot?

Anti-fungal medicines are used to treat athlete’s foot. You can buy them from your pharmacy without a prescription. There are lots of different products available, and formulations include creams, powders, gels, and sprays. There is no evidence to suggest that one anti-fungal medicine is better than the others, so it comes down to personal preference. You should only use one anti-fungal medication at a time. Anti-fungal medicines work by killing the fungus (dermatophytes) that cause athlete’s foot. They usually do this by disrupting the production of important components needed for the fungal cell membrane.

Self-care tips

To prevent and manage athlete’s foot, you need to stop your feet from becoming hot and sweaty. Therefore, you should avoid wearing tight-fitting shoes, avoid wearing shoes in the house, try to rotate between the shoes you wear, dry your feet well after washing them, and wear clean socks every day.

Fungal spores can spread from person to person when your body naturally sheds skin, so if you have athlete’s foot, you should avoid sharing towels, socks, and shoes and wear flip-flops in communal changing rooms and showers. These measures can also stop you from getting athlete’s foot again in the future. Fungal spores can also spread to other parts of your body. Therefore, if you have athlete’s foot, you should avoid scratching affected areas of skin and use a separate towel for your feet.

What about herbal medicines?

If you prefer herbal medicines, you could try using a product that contains lavender, tea tree, or echinacea. However, it may not be very effective as there is not much scientific evidence to support its use.

When to see your doctor

You should make an appointment to see your doctor if medicines from your pharmacy have not been effective. They may decide to take a small scraping of skin from your feet to send to a laboratory to check if you have athlete’s foot. Your doctor may recommend a tablet antifungal if your infection is severe or widespread. You should also make an appointment to see your doctor if you have diabetes or a weakened immune system or if your rash has spread to other parts of your body, such as your hands.

You should seek urgent medical advice if your foot is hot or very painful. This may indicate that you also have a bacterial infection that will require antibiotic treatment.

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