Athlete's foot

Author: Hon A/Prof Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand, 2003.

Athlete's foot is the term used for a common disorder affecting the skin between the toes. The cleft between the fourth and fifth toes is the most frequently affected, with moist soft skin that peels off easily. Often the skin splits uncomfortably (a fissure). It may smell unpleasant. It is generally mild; very inflamed athlete's foot is generally due to secondary bacterial infection.


Athlete's foot can be due to one factor or a combination of factors.

Predisposing factors

Athlete's foot is more common in those who participate in sports because:

Laboratory tests

In resistant cases, it is important to identify any specific infection:

If there is no infection, or treatment of infection does not control the symptoms, an underlying skin condition could be responsible. Look for signs of psoriasis (scaly patches in scalp, on elbows and knees or rashes in body folds) or dermatitis (itchy areas of dry skin).


Treatment for athlete's foot should begin with general measures.

Whitfield's ointment is particularly useful as it removes the surface layer of moist peeling skin (i.e. it is keratolytic) and eliminates bacteria and fungi.

Make sure that other sites of fungal infection are also treated effectively. Prevent relapse by using antifungal foot powder.

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