Symptoms and causes


Athlete's foot usually causes a scaly red rash. The rash typically begins in between the toes. Itching is often the worst right after you take off your shoes and socks.

Some types of athlete's foot feature blisters or ulcers. The moccasin variety of athlete's foot causes chronic dryness and scaling on the soles that extends up the side of the foot. It can be mistaken for eczema or even as dry skin.

The infection can affect one or both feet and can spread to your hand — especially if you scratch or pick at the infected parts of your feet.

When to see a doctor

If you have a rash on your foot that doesn't improve after self-treatment, see your doctor.

If you have diabetes, see your doctor if you suspect you have athlete's foot, especially if you notice any signs of a possible secondary bacterial infection such as excessive redness, swelling, drainage or fever.


Athlete's foot is caused by the same type of fungus that causes ringworm and jock itch. Damp socks and shoes and warm, humid conditions favor the organisms' growth.

Athlete's foot is contagious and can be spread by contact with an infected person or from contact with contaminated surfaces, such as towels, floors and shoes.

Risk factors

You are at higher risk of athlete's foot if you:

  • Are a man
  • Frequently wear damp socks or tightfitting shoes
  • Share mats, rugs, bed linens, clothes or shoes with someone who has a fungal infection
  • Walk barefoot in public areas where the infection can spread, such as locker rooms, saunas, swimming pools, communal baths and showers


Your athlete's foot infection can spread to other parts of your body, including:

  • Your hand. People who scratch or pick at the infected parts of their feet may develop a similar infection in one of their hands.
  • Your nails. The fungi associated with athlete's foot can also infect your toenails, a location that tends to be more resistant to treatment.
  • Your groin. Jock itch is often caused by the same fungus that results in athlete's foot. It's common for the infection to spread from the feet to the groin as the fungus can travel on your hands or on a towel.