All About Athlete’s Foot

If you have feet, there’s a good chance you’ll have to deal with athlete’s foot at some point in your life—approximately 70 percent, to be specific. If it isn’t treated correctly, athlete’s foot can keep coming back over and over again and may even lead to other infections. Knowing the different types of athlete’s foot can help you spot its symptoms and how to treat it more quickly and effectively. Here’s a guide on athlete’s foot to help protect you from the burden of itchy, smelly feet.

Toe Web Infection

Toe web infection, also known as interdigital athlete’s foot, is the most commonly experienced type of athlete’s foot. Affecting the skin between the toes, it usually begins with irritation between the fourth and fifth toes (the two farthest from the big toe) and can spread to other areas of the foot if left untreated.

When a toe web infection first occurs, the affected skin becomes white and feels soft and wet to touch. You may feel itching or burning between your toes, especially when you take off your socks and shoes, and your feet will emit a slightly foul odor. As the infection progresses, the skin turns scaly and begins to peel and crack. If the athlete’s foot fungus becomes exposed to bacteria, symptoms will worsen, causing the skin to become even more irritated and smelly and possibly produce discharge.

Moccasin Infection

The next most common is a moccasin infection, also called scaly athlete’s foot, which occurs on the soles of the feet. It is often mistaken for a simple case of dry skin, leading sufferers to think they can solve the problem with ordinary moisturizers or lotions. This is the most challenging form of athlete’s foot to treat, and it often lasts for a long time.

The moccasin infection gets its name from its early symptoms—reddish flaky skin that covers the bottom of the foot and sometimes the sides in a way that resembles a moccasin-style shoe, leaving you feeling itchy and sore. The skin covering the sole or heel of the foot then becomes thick enough to crack or peel. In more severe cases, the infection can spread to the toenails, causing them to become thicker and more brittle and possibly even fall off. Sometimes, sufferers of moccasin infections may also experience symptoms on their hands.

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Vesicular Infection

Vesicular infections are the rarest type of athlete’s foot. Often the result of a previously existing toe web infection, this form can affect any part of the foot.

A vesicular infection begins with the sudden onset of a series of itchy, painful blisters, most frequently occurring on the arch of the foot. These blisters are gray with a darker tip in the center, surrounded by a ring of red. They will easily pop when scratched, but doing so causes the infection to spread and worsen. If you experience an allergic reaction to the blisters on your feet, a second wave of blisters may spring up on your chest, arms, and fingers.

Causes and Prevention

Despite its name, athlete’s foot doesn’t just affect athletes. The fungus responsible for athlete’s foot thrives on warm, moist skin, meaning anyone with sweaty feet can be susceptible to the condition. Unfortunately, the people at the highest risk of suffering from athlete’s foot are those with immune systems that are bad at fighting off the infection, so it may be impossible to avoid in many situations. Still, there are simple precautions that anyone can take to dodge the most common causes of athlete’s foot.

The fungus associated with athlete’s foot is highly contagious, meaning that it is essential to avoid direct or indirect contact with infected people. This means it is dangerous to share clothes, socks, shoes, bedding, towels, bath mats, or nail clippers with anyone who may be suffering from athlete’s foot.

The fungus can also latch onto your feet if you walk barefoot in public areas like locker rooms, pools, saunas, or shared bathrooms, but take caution not to swear off going barefoot entirely. Walking barefoot in private places where you are confident the fungus is not present is actually good for your feet: It keeps them dry and clean. In situations when you do need to wear shoes, they should be loose-fitting and porous enough to prevent your feet from getting sweaty.

Although athlete’s foot symptoms are mostly mild, and complications are rare, it’s always best to treat it as soon as possible to reduce the risk of it becoming worse and to avoid complications.

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* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.