Athlete's foot is a fungal infection that causes cracked red patches to form on the feet, usually between the toes. The affected areas may itch, sting, flake or ooze. Athlete's foot may spread to the toenails (onychomycosis), causing them to change color, thicken, or crumble. It can also be spread to other parts of the body, commonly appearing in the groin as jock itch. Athlete's foot is also contagious from one person to another, spreading easily through shared towels, clothing, bedding or contaminated flooring.
Because fungi grow most quickly in warm, moist conditions, risk factors for contracting athlete's foot include keeping the feet wet for long periods of time, walking barefoot in damp public places such as pools or showers, wearing closed shoes that do not allow proper air circulation, and having sweaty feet.
Although not usually a serious disease, athlete's foot can be extremely uncomfortable and may recur over time. Occasionally, athlete's foot infections lead to bacterial infections with more severe symptoms, particularly if the patient scratches the affected areas. People with diabetes, or other autoimmune diseases, should be especially careful to inspect their feet and treat athlete's foot when symptoms first appear.
Fortunately, there are many over-the-counter antifungal medications to combat athlete's foot that usually work very well. If a particular case is resistant to treatment, prescribed medications are also available.