Is It Athlete’s Foot or Eczema? Here’s How to Know

Athlete's foot vs eczema

Athlete foot and eczema are the two skin conditions whose symptoms often overlap. It is the reason why people often get confused as to what skin condition they are having. 

It is when having detailed information about the two and comparing Athlete’s foot vs eczema will provide insight into them and clear the doubts. If you have the same dilemma, continue reading!

Difference Between Athlete’s Foot and Eczema

Athlete’s Foot 

Athlete’s foot, also called tinea pedis, is a fungal skin infection. It happens when the feet stay damp due to sweat for longer hours, allowing fungus to grow and spread. Since it often happens with athletes, it is named Athlete’s foot. However, it can happen to anyone. 

The symptoms of Athlete’s foot appear between the toes and gradually spread to

  • Under the toenails 
  • Sole
  • Heel

Athlete’s foot, being a fungal infection, is a contagious disease. It can spread from one person to another through direct skin contact. Wearing shoes of a person having an Athlete’s foot can transfer the fungus to your skin. The fungus will enter through cuts, wounds, and cracks and flourish under warm and humid environments.



Eczema is a skin condition in which the skin becomes inflamed, dry, and easily irritated. It is also called atopic dermatitis and can occur in any part of the body, including the feet. 

Unlike Athlete’s foot, eczema is not contagious. It happens due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. At the same time, it is believed that the skin barrier of people with eczema is dysfunctional, making it drier and irritated easily with different types of allergens.  

Athlete’s Foot Vs. Eczema- How Do They Appear? 

People with Athlete’s foot show the following signs or symptoms-

  • Redness  
  • Dryness 
  • Itchiness 
  • Cracking 
  • Thick, swollen, and white skin

When left untreated or when the condition gets severe, the Athlete’s Foot may turn into an acute case of inflammation. In such cases, blisters, pus filled bumps and blisters will form on the feet. 

In eczema, the skin will show the following signs-

  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Dryness
  • Flaking
  • Inflammation

Similarly, like in Athlete’s foot, people may develop blisters, pus-filled bumps, and sores that can leak liquid. 

The only difference is that an athlete’s foot will appear only in the feet, but eczema may appear in any body part, including the feet. 

Here’s a table differentiating between Athlete’s foot and eczema under different categories-

FeatureAthlete’s FootEczema
DefinitionFungal infection affecting the skin of the feetInflammatory skin condition, often chronic
CauseFungal infection (usually Trichophyton)Genetic, environmental, and immune factors
LocationPrimarily affects feet, especially between toesCan occur anywhere on the body, commonly in folds
SymptomsItching, burning, redness, scalingItching, redness, dryness, flaking, inflammation
AppearanceRed, scaly rash often between toesDry, red patches, sometimes with oozing or crusting
TransmissionContact with contaminated surfaces (e.g., floors, shoes)Not contagious, but can be hereditary
Risk FactorsSweaty feet, wearing tight shoes, walking barefoot in public placesFamily history, allergies, sensitive skin
TreatmentAntifungal creams, powders, oral medicationsMoisturizers, corticosteroid creams, antihistamines
PreventionKeep feet clean and dry, wear breathable footwearAvoid triggers (e.g., irritants, allergens), moisturize skin
ComplicationsSecondary bacterial infections, spread to nailsSkin infections, psychological impact
ContagiousnessHighly contagious through direct contactNot contagious
FrequencyCommon, especially in athletes or those who share communal showersCommon, affecting people of all ages

Athlete’s Foot vs. Eczema- Diagnosis 

The telltale signs of an athlete’s foot can help diagnose the problem, especially when the feet stay in damp and moist conditions for long hours. 

However, if it looks similar to eczema and you and the doctor are not able to conclude by physical examination, the doctor will perform a test after taking a skin sample. The doctor will scrap out a small amount of skin and check for the presence of fungal spores. 

To rule out if it’s eczema, the doctor may ask for the family history of eczema. Skin biopsy is also often recommended for the correct diagnosis. The doctor may also advise an allergen test to find out the cause of the allergy. 

Athlete’s Foot vs. Eczema- Prevention 

As already mentioned, the primary cause of an athlete’s foot is damp and moist conditions around the feet; therefore, avoiding such a situation can curb the problem to a great extent. 

Here’s what you can do to prevent athlete’s foot-

  • Wash your feet regularly with soap and water 
  • Dry the feet with a clean towel 
  • Wear breathable footwear such as flip-flops or slippers, especially in swimming pools, showers, and changing rooms 
  • Do not wear tight-fitting shoes 
  • Remove the shoes after regular intervals and let the sweat inside dry 
  • Wear fabrics that dry quickly 
  • Always wear clean and washed shocks 

While you can minimize the risk of Athlete’s Foot to a great extent by following preventive measures, eczema, being a genetic condition, cannot be prevented completely. However, efforts can be made to minimize the flare-ups due to eczema by taking the following measures-

  • Find what’s triggering eczema and avoid them
  • Keep the skin well moisturized 
  • Wear clothes that are breathable 
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothes 
  • Keep yourself hydrated by drinking water
  • Use a humidifier to manage symptoms 
  • Do not use fragrant detergents and soaps 

While these steps won’t protect you from eczema if it’s in your genes and flares up due to poor immunity, they can manage the discomforting symptoms to a great extent. 


Due to similar symptoms people often fail to understand if it’s an athlete’s foot or eczema. It is when keen observation and keeping a track of the symptoms help diagnose the problem correctly. If you are still confused, visit a doctor to get the right treatment. 

Feature Image Source – canva

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