Diagnosing athlete's foot

Diagnosing athlete's foot

When to see a doctor if you think you have athlete's foot

If unsure of symptoms, or an infection does not clear up with over-the-counter anti-fungal ointments, it is best to consult with a healthcare professional. This is especially necessary if redness, and swelling increases and affected areas begin to bleed, leak discharge (fluid) and become painful.

If a person has affected nails, a compromised immune system or diabetes, he or she should also consult their doctor for a thorough check-up. If symptoms are suddenly accompanied by a fever, a consultation with a medical professional should be booked as soon as possible.

Which doctor should you see for athlete's foot?

As athlete’s foot is a fungal infection affecting the skin, a specialist in the treatment of skin disorders (dermatologist) can be consulted. Other medical professionals who can all diagnose and treat such infections include podiatrists, medical physicians, paediatricians and general practitioners (GPs).

How is athlete's foot diagnosed?

Athlete’s foot is a relatively straightforward condition to diagnose and treat. A doctor can easily identify athlete’s foot upon examination, but may require skin scrapings (7), using a skin lesion potassium hydroxide (KOH) exam, in order to accurately diagnose the root cause (fungus).

A collection of skin scrapings (sometimes the nails as well) is relatively painless and may be necessary in order to identify the type of fungus causing the irritation. Scrapings are then sent to a laboratory where the sample is assessed under a microscope. This investigation allows for the type of fungus to be identified. In rare instances, a biopsy of skin may be required for testing. This involves taking a small sample of the infected skin rather than just a skin scraping.

Generally, if a case of athlete’s foot presents in an unusual way, scrapings may be requested. For the most part, athlete’s foot is diagnosed just by a physical examination of the affected areas. The doctor may have a few questions to ask you. 

The type of questions that may come up include:

  • How long ago did you start experiencing symptoms?
  • How would you describe the first signs of skin irritation?
  • Are you experiencing any itchiness or burning sensations?
  • Are you experiencing any degree of pain?
  • Have you tried treating the skin? Have your efforts made symptoms worse or better?
  • Are you aware of having been around anyone with athlete’s foot? (i.e. a family member or friend)
  • Have you recently spent time in communal areas such as gyms, swimming pools, a sauna or spa? 


7. MedlinePlus. August 2018. Athlete's Foot: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000875.htm [Accessed 24.08.2018]

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