Understanding Athlete's Foot: The Basics

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on April 16, 2023
2 min read

Athlete's foot is a common fungal infection. You don't have to be an athlete to get it.

This annoying ailment occurs in children and adults of all ages.


The majority of athlete’s foot cases are caused by a variety of fungi all belonging to a group called dermatophytes, which also causes jock itch and ringworm. The fungi thrive in closed, warm, moist environments and feed on keratin, a protein found in hair, nails, and skin. Rarely, athlete’s foot can be caused by non-dermatophytes like yeast (candida).

Athlete's foot is mildly contagious. It can be spread through direct contact with the infection and by skin particles left on towels, shoes, or floors.

Walking barefoot in warm or damp public places such as locker rooms, saunas, swimming pools, and communal showers may increase your chance of contracting athlete's foot. You also may be at more risk of getting athlete's foot if you often wear enclosed footwear, sweat heavily, or share mats, rugs, bed linens, clothes, or shoes with someone who has a fungal infection. Your risk of developing athlete's foot can also depend on your susceptibility. For example, you have more risk if you have an impaired immune system or diabetes and an open cut or sore on your feet.

It's diagnosed by your doctor through a physical exam. They'll ask about your medical history and take a scraping of your skin to send to a lab. Your treatment options may include antifungal meds you take by mouth or creams you apply to the infected area of your skin.