Athlete's foot: what you can do about it

Effective measures against athlete's foot

Athlete's foot is very common and usually harmless. But the skin can become itchy, cracked and unsightly. In addition, the fungus can spread on the nails. Experts explain how to treat the infection and how to prevent it properly.

According to a statement by the Bremen Chamber of Pharmacists, athlete's foot infection, also known as tinea pedis in medical parlance, is one of the most common infectious diseases. Around 30 percent of the population have been affected at least once. The infection can usually be successfully treated with over-the-counter medicines from the pharmacy or with home remedies. To prevent athlete's foot from occurring at all, it is important, among other things, to keep your feet as dry as possible.

Fungus can spread

As the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG) explains on the portal "", athlete's foot (tinea pedis) mainly occurs between the little toe and the neighboring toe.

The affected areas scaly and can itch. In addition, there may be redness and cracks in the skin. Furthermore, the skin can be whitish and thickened and is often slightly swollen. Athlete's foot is usually harmless, but usually does not go away on its own.

"Athlete's foot should always be taken seriously," advises Dr. Richard Klämbt, Vice President of the Bremen Chamber of Pharmacists. "If not treated properly or quickly enough, it can spread onto the nails and cause serious complications." The fungus can also spread to other parts of the body. For example, if you scratch the itchy feet with your bare hands and then touch your face, you will drag off the fungus.

Infection risk when walking barefoot

Athlete's foot is mostly caused by skin fungi (dermatophytes). These can penetrate the skin through small cracks or injuries and affect the top layer. The same fungi can also lead to nail fungus.

The fungi are transmitted through direct skin contact or through skin flakes. This can happen, for example, if the bare feet come into contact with contagious skin flakes in shared showers. "The more people walk barefoot in one place, the greater the risk of infection," explains Dr. Clamps ,.

Skin fungi need moisture and warmth to spread. The feet offer a favorable environment for this: Since we wear shoes most of the day, it is often warm and damp there. The skin also contains a lot of keratin - a protein that is found in the epidermis. Skin fungi feed on this.

These factors can increase the risk of athlete's foot infections

“” explains that certain factors can increase the risk of athlete's foot, in particular:

  • a family disposition
  • allergic diseases and neurodermatitis
  • a tendency to sweaty feet
  • a weakened immune system, for example due to a serious illness or long-term use of drugs that weaken the immune system
  • Circulatory problems in the legs, for example as a result of diabetes or narrowing of the vessels
  • certain sports, especially running and swimming

Even people who always have to wear sturdy footwear, such as safety shoes or rubber boots, are at increased risk.

Prevent properly

IQWiG explains how to prevent athlete's foot infections. Since mushrooms prefer a humid environment, it is worth paying attention to dry feet. This means that for example:

  • feet dry well after swimming, showering or bathing
  • not wearing shoes that are too tight and as airy as possible
  • not wearing the same pair of shoes for two days in a row
  • take off his shoes as often as possible

In order to prevent infection by infected skin flakes and to prevent relapses, the following is recommended:

  • to wear flip-flops in swimming pools, shared showers and changing rooms
  • Do not share shoes, towels and socks
  • Wash socks, bed linen and towels at a minimum of 60 degrees
  • Add additives such as hygienic detergent to the laundry at lower washing temperatures

According to the experts, however, it has not yet been investigated how effective these recommendations for prevention are.

Treat athlete's foot

According to the IGWiG, athlete's foot can usually be successfully treated with creams, gels or sprays that are available over the counter in the pharmacy. Such preparations contain an active ingredient that inhibits the growth of the fungi or kills them. According to a message from the AOK Federal Association, most funds have to be used for three to six weeks.

The portal "" points out that sometimes home remedies for athlete's foot such as foot baths with certain herbs or the application of apple cider vinegar or tea tree oil are recommended. However, studies on tea tree oil have shown no effectiveness. According to the experts, other home remedies have not yet been tested in good studies.

If it is not possible to cure athlete's foot by external treatment, tablets can be considered. However, these are rarely required. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG): Athlete's foot, (accessed: June 23, 2020),
  • Bremen Chamber of Pharmacists: Recognize athlete's foot and treat it correctly (available on June 23, 2020), Bremen Chamber of Pharmacists
  • Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG): What helps against athlete's foot ?, (accessed: June 23, 2020),
  • AOK Federal Association: Nail and athlete's foot: Treatment requires persistence, (accessed: June 23, 2020), AOK Federal Association

Video: Athletes Foot Tinea Pedis. Causes, Risk Factors, Signs u0026 Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment (January 2022).