How to treat athlete's foot

This is common infection of the feet is most often characterized by cracked, flaking, peeling skin between toes. In the majority of cases, it responds well to self care.

-By Michelle Pratt

Athlete's Foot Picture

Athlete’s foot (known also by the medical term tinea pedis) is a common foot condition that responds well to treatment. According to Mellisa Conrad Stoppler, M.D., about 70% of the population will experience athlete’s foot at some point in their lives. Runners, swimmers, and dancers are more likely to suffer from athlete’s foot, as well as people who wear shoes that are too tight (causing the toes to squish together).

The fungus that causes athlete’s foot exists on floors (think locker rooms) and it spreads easily through contact.

Exposure to the fungus does not guarantee its growth; conditions must be right for the fungus to spread. The toes provide an ideal condition because they shelter moisture.

Athlete’s foot is identified by dry, cracked skin, most often in the toe area. Clients may complain of burning and itching, and the skin can become so irritated that it breaks open and bleed. Often a foul odor is associated with the disease, and a thick, creamy substance can form under the nails. In advanced cases, the nails may flake, appear discolored, and become thick.

The good news is that athlete’s foot is treatable. If a client comes in with what appears to be athlete’s foot, techs can recommend a number of treatments. First, instruct the client to wash her feet daily. After washing, it’s imperative to thoroughly dry the area between the toes, which is often overlooked in our haste to dry. A medicated, over-the-counter foot powder is recommended to keep the area dry. There are also over the counter topical creams that can be recommended.

Suggest clients wear socks made of material that wicks the moisture from the skin. Shoes made of natural materials are preferred to materials that don’t allow the area to “ breathe.”

If clients do not see a difference in the condition in two weeks, they should consult a doctor. The doctor will be able to prescribe an aggressive treatment, such as an antifungal cream or an antibiotic.


Unlike athlete’s foot, eczema is a non-infectious, non-contagious, inflamed skin condition. Yet telling the difference between athlete’s foot and eczema can be difficult because both conditions can trigger identical symptoms. Both conditions can be acute (appearing suddenly), sub-acute, or chronic (persistent or ongoing). In the acute stages the skin is often blistered, cracked and red. The skin may ooze and the sufferers may complain of burning and itching. In the chronic forms, the skin may just remain thickened and scaly, with minimal redness and itching. Both can affect the nails. Though doctors must do a culture to make a definitive diagnosis of athlete’s foot, eczema, or another condition, the location of the symptoms provides a few clues. Eczema usually appears in other places on the body besides the feet. Affected skin between the toes, especially the fourth and fifth toes, usually indicates athlete’s foot. Cracked and red skin on top of the foot or on top of the toes points to eczema.

Source: Nails Magazine February 2008, Volume 25, No.14.