Athlete's foot: Fact versus fiction

Athlete's foot: Fact versus fiction

Athlete’s foot, although not a serious condition, is often misunderstood. Understanding the nature of the fungus which causes an infection can help to better understand how it occurs and why infections can keep coming back. Here we address some of the myths associated with the condition:

  • Myth – athlete’s foot only affects professional sports men and women: The name by which this condition is most well-known does have something to do with professional athletes, but not exclusively. A fungal infection can happen to anyone exposed to the contaminating cause. The condition became well-known as it appeared to affect many athletes in places that they frequent – gyms, showers and locker rooms (shared environments which are primed for fungal growth).
  • Myth – Athlete’s foot is different from jock itch infections: Both infections are caused by the same fungus.The difference in name merely refers to the specific parts of the body in which an infection typically occurs. Jock itch refers to an infection of the groin area and is known as tinea cruris. Athlete’s foot doesn’t just affect the feet either. Scratching or touching infected feet, and then touching other areas of the body can spread infection, such as to the groin area or armpits. Spreading is also possible through contact with contaminated clothing or bed linens.
  • Myth – A person with excellent hygiene habits will never get athlete’s foot: Adopting good washing habits won’t necessarily prevent a bout of athlete’s foot. If feet aren’t properly dried after washing, this is what creates an ideal breeding ground for fungus. Showering is not likely to clear an infection either, even if feet are well washed with soap and water. Cleanliness, however, is important for preventing a recurrence, as long as feet are well dried after each wash.
  • Myth – Those who wear socks and shoes all day are more prone to athlete’s foot: Yes, and no. If shoes and socks are dry, chances are your feet will be just fine. Dark, damp environments are where fungus thrive the best. If shoes and socks are not clean and dry when worn, risk for fungal infection increases.
  • Myth – Socks made of natural fibres (e.g. cotton) can prevent athlete’s foot: Many natural fibres can hold moisture, so a pair of cotton or wool socks is not likely to prevent a fungal infection, but may not hold as much moisture near the foot and hence may decrease the likelihood of developing an infection. Natural fibres are more porous materials, so are better to wear than synthetic ones which allow the foot to sweat more. 
  • Myth – If skin on the foot isn’t peeling, it’s not an athlete’s foot infection: Not everyone with athlete’s foot will necessarily experience cracking or peeling of the skin. There may only be dryness and signs of inflammation (redness), all of which are symptoms of athlete’s foot.
  • Myth – athlete’s foot can clear up on its own: This fungal infection doesn’t usually resolve on its own4 and often worsens without treatment, sometimes resulting in more serious complications. Antifungal medications are to be taken for the full length of time stipulated by a medical doctor, even if symptoms begin to clear beforehand. This can help to prevent a recurrence.


3. New York State Department of Health. February 2001. Fungal Skin Infection: Ringworm (Tinea): [Accessed 29.08.2018]

4. niDirect Government Services. November 2017. Athlete's Foot: [Accessed 29.08.2018]

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