Tinea pedis, or ringworm of the foot, is commonly known as athlete’s foot. It is a fungal infection that frequently begins at the skin between your toes and can affect your soles and side of the feet.
Tinea, or ringworm can also affect your body (tinea corporis), groin (tinea cruris), scalp (tinea capitis), and nails (tinea unguium). Patches of discoloration on your skin may be a result of another type of tinea infection, known as tinea versicolor.
Tinea pedis can be easily misidentified as other conditions affecting the skin, such as eczema or dermatitis. Hence, equipping yourself with knowledge of the possible signs and symptoms of a tinea pedis infection can navigate you towards attaining the right and proper treatment for tinea pedis.
What Is Tinea Pedis?
Tinea pedis, or athlete’s foot, is a ringworm infection of the foot. This contagious infection commonly affects the skin in between your toes, and at times, your soles, heels, and sides of your feet.
Tinea pedis occurs more frequently in males and young adults, but it can also affect other populations such as children, females, and older adults. This infection is prevalent in countries that have hot and humid climates.
What Does Tinea Pedis Look Like?
Some symptoms of tinea pedis include:-
- Scaly rashes may affect the skin between the toes, heels, sides of the feet, or soles.
- Usually, these rashes begin between the toes before affecting other parts of the foot. At times, the infection can also spread to other parts of the body, including the legs, trunk, and arms.
- Chronic dryness, redness, and peeling of affected skin. You might notice fine silvery scales covering the affected area. These symptoms may resemble eczema or dry skin.
- Itching can be common, and it’s usually the most severe after you’ve just removed your sock and shoes.
- Small or medium-sized blisters or ulcers may form. You may notice that the blisters contain fluid or pus. A bacterial infection secondary to this fungal infection may result in ulceration.
- The infection can be seen on one foot or both feet. If both feet are affected, the pattern formed is usually asymmetrical, meaning that the size and shape of the infected area may be different on each foot.
- You may notice an unpleasant smell.
Your doctor or dermatologist will perform a thorough physical examination of the affected area. They may also check for a tinea infection affecting other parts of your body to confirm the disease. That’s because tinea can spread from your foot to other body regions, especially if you pick at or scratch your foot.
Your healthcare professional may perform an examination of skin scrapings under the microscope to confirm the diagnosis.
What Causes Tinea Pedis?
Tinea pedis is caused by dermatophytes, which are harmful fungi that can latch onto your skin and trigger an infection. More specifically, Trichophyton rubrum is the primary causative agent of this infection.
However, other species of fungi may also be responsible. The causative fungi will release enzymes to invade the keratinous layer of your skin. Keratin plays a role in supporting the rigidity and protective barrier of your skin.
Some risk factors may increase your chances of getting a tinea pedis infection. These include:-
- Hot and humid weather
- Excessive sweating
- Wearing tight-fitting, close-toed, or occlusive footwear for prolonged periods
- Wearing wet socks and shoes
- Having diabetes or a weakened immune system
- Walking barefoot in certain areas such as public walkways, swimming pools, locker rooms, shared showers, and saunas
- Sharing shoes, socks, mats, rugs, beddings, or clothes with someone who has a tinea infection
How Long Does Tinea Pedis Take To Heal?
Milder cases can subside within two weeks of proper treatment. In more severe or widespread infections, treatment may take more weeks or even months. If your toenail is infected, it may take up to a few months for the infection to completely clear up.
What Is The Best Treatment For Tinea Pedis?
Topical antifungal treatment is usually effective in clearing up most tinea pedis infections. This antifungal therapy may come in creams, lotions, powders, or sprays that are applied directly to the infected site. They are usually applied once or twice a day.
Some topical antifungals used to treat athlete’s foot include itraconazole, ketoconazole, miconazole, and terbinafine.
You may need to take an oral antifungal by mouth in certain circumstances. Oral/systemic antifungals may be required if:-
- Your infection does not improve even with topical treatment
- The infection recurs frequently
- The affected area is widespread
- You experience blistering or ulceration of the skin.
Oral antifungals can only be attained with a doctor’s prescription.
How Do You Prevent Tinea Pedis?
Tinea pedis is a contagious infection. It can not only spread from one person to another, but it can also spread from your feet to affect other parts of your body. These are some preventative measures you can adopt to prevent getting the infection or spreading the disease to other people.
- Wear open-toed and breathable footwear whenever possible.
- Dry your feet carefully after showering, including the areas between your toes.
- Avoid going barefoot in public places. Wear thongs or sandals when going to swimming pools, shared showers, and locker rooms.
- If you have an infection, clean your toilet floors with bleach. Wash mats and rugs regularly in hot water, and avoid sharing bathroom mats whenever possible.
- Do not re-wear socks if possible. Change pairs frequently and alternate your footwear.
- Avoid sharing socks or shoes with other people.
- You may use antifungal powders to prevent an infection.
- Allow your socks, shoes, and boots to dry thoroughly after washing before wearing them again.
- Get proper treatment for your foot if you have a ringworm infection.
When Should I See The Doctor?
If your tinea pedis does not improve within two weeks of commencing topical antifungal treatment, visit your doctor. Other than that, if you are immunocompromised or have diabetes, and you suspect you have a tinea infection, it is best to see a doctor as well.
Additionally, if you experience signs of a systemic infection, such as swelling or fever, you should see your doctor.
Bottomline: Managing Tinea Pedis
Tinea pedis, or athlete’s foot, is a treatable fungal infection of the foot. Often, topical antifungal agents are sufficient to treat mild cases. Usually, the condition will take around two weeks to clear up, but more severe or complicated cases may take longer.
It is essential to practice good hygiene and keep your feet clean and dry whenever possible to prevent a tinea pedis infection.
Disclaimer: This article is only a guide. It does not substitute the advice given by your own healthcare professional. Before making any health-related decision, consult your healthcare professional.
- Nigam, P. K., & Saleh, D. (2021). Tinea Pedis. In StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved from
- DermNet NZ. (2003). Tinea Pedis. Retrieved from
- Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Athlete’s Foot. Retrieved from