Athlete’s Foot (Tinea Pedis)

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Athlete’s foot or tinea pedis, is a very common fungal infection that affects the feet. It appears as a scaly rash which can make the affected area burn or itch. Often times the rash appears in a moccasin distribution, involving the bottom and sides of the feet. Toe webs can also be affected. Less commonly, fluid filled blisters may appear. Itch can range from negligible to severe.


Athlete’s foot is caused by a variety of fungi. These are the same fungi that can cause jock itch, ringworm, and toenail fungus.

One does not have to be an athlete to suffer from tinea pedis. This common fungal infection can happen from walking barefoot in moist surfaces like the floors of locker rooms, bathrooms, pool decks, etc.  Organisms causing tinea pedis have even been cultured from sidewalks and towels. Fungi like to grow in damp, closed spaces, which is why it favors the feet, especially the space between the toes, and can even grow in your shoes.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Tinea pedis can often be diagnosed via physical exam of the foot by a physician. Laboratory testing with an in-office rapid KOH preparation or fungal culture can be performed for confirmation. Application of an anti-fungal agent to the skin before such a test can produce a false-negative result, so be sure to inform your physician about recent treatments.

Most often, topical treatments are used to treat tinea pedis. These are available in over-the-counter and prescription sprays, powders, lotions, creams and gels. In severe cases, an oral antifungal agent may be prescribed by a physician.

OTC Treatment Options

Athlete’s Foot (Tinea Pedis)


Lotrimin Ultra Cream


Lamisil AT Antifungal Cream (terbinafine)

Tolnafate 1% cream

Miconazole 2% cream

Clotrimazole 1% cream


Wash the affected area & dry completely before applying antifungal cream. Apply twice per day in between toes & to the bottom & sides of feet until improvement is noted. Wash hands after application to avoid spread of fungal infection to other locations. Be sure to apply for a minimum of two weeks, but no longer than 4 weeks if not improved.

If your symptoms do not improve after 2 weeks of treatment or have not gone away after 4 weeks of treatment, call your physician.

OTC Tips

There are several precautions that one can take to minimize the chance of contracting athlete’s foot. Most importantly, minimize contact with surfaces that harbor fungus. Specifically, wear footwear in places like the locker room, pools, and gyms. Because fungi thrive in warm, moist environments, keep your feet as dry as possible and wear footwear that “breathe” or are made of materials that wick moisture and sweat away from the skin. Thoroughly dry feet after bathing. Do not wear damp shoes or socks. Do not wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row. This will allow the shoes to dry before rewearing. Shoes in patients with tinea pedis can be treated with anti-fungal powder. Suspected contaminated surfaces (bathtubs, showers, bathroom, floors, etc) may be cleaned with bleach to help prevent spread and reinfection.

Alternative & Complementary Treatments

Tea Tree & Other Oils

  • Puriya Wonder Balm (Tea tree & other oils)
  • FineVine Super Balm (Tea tree & other oils)

Evidence regarding efficacy of tea tree oil is limited. While tea tree oil may work well for some individuals, studies show that they are not as effective as more traditional treatments such as terbinafine or clotrimazole.

Following these regimens should completely clear your fungal foot infection. If after 2-4 weeks you do not see any improvement, it is important to follow up with your dermatologist. Other rashes on the bottom of the foot can mimic athlete’s foot, and your doctor can check for the presence of fungus with a simple in office test. Your doctor can prescribe prescription strength topicals or sometimes, for more severe cases, an oral antifungal agent to clear your infection.

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