What to Do About Blisters From Athlete’s Foot

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Athlete's foot is a contagious fungal infection that affects the skin on the feet and between the toes. It can cause fluid-filled blisters on the feet, as well as other symptoms. It commonly affects people whose feet become sweaty while wearing tight shoes, such as sneakers during physical activity, after exposure to the fungus.

This article discusses why and how athlete's foot and blisters occur, and how to treat them.

Jogger holding painful foot

urbazon / Getty Images

Symptoms

Athlete's foot, or tinea pedis, can be easily recognized by these symptoms:

  • Scaly, peeling, or cracked skin on the bottom of the foot and between the toes
  • Itchiness
  • Inflamed skin
  • Burning or stinging
  • Fluid-filled blisters (including on areas of the foot experiencing no friction or pressure)
  • Whitening of the skin between the toes

Blisters caused by athlete's foot can result in pain and discomfort, especially when standing, walking or running.

Causes

Athlete's foot is caused by tinea fungus growing on the feet. This can occur when your feet are exposed to the fungus and are then confined inside tight and hot shoes that do not allow your feet to breathe. This can then lead to blisters.

It's possible to catch the fungus through direct contact with an infected person or by touching surfaces contaminated with the fungus, such as towels, floors, and shoes.

The fungus flourishes in hot or moist environments. It can grow in showers, locker rooms, or even around swimming pools.

Blisters resulting from athlete's foot are usually raised and filled with fluid, such as serous fluid (a clear to pale yellow watery fluid). If the blister breaks and it becomes an open wound, the fluid will turn to pus.

Who Gets Athlete's Foot?

Athlete's foot is typically associated with athletes, because their feet spend a significant amount of time in damp, hot, and sweaty environments inside their shoes. However, anyone can get athlete's foot.

Treatment

Athlete's foot and blisters caused by athlete's foot can usually be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) topical antifungal medications.

OTC topical antifungal medications that can be considered to treat athlete's foot include:

  • Desenex (miconazole)
  • Lamisil AT (terbinafine)
  • Lotrimin AF (clotrimazole)
  • Lotrimin Ultra (butenafine)
  • Tinactin (tolnaftate)

If OTC medications don't help clear up your athlete's foot, your healthcare provider may prescribe medications, such as:

  • Topical, prescription-strength clotrimazole or miconazole
  • Oral antifungal medications, such as Sporanox (itraconazole), Diflucan (fluconazole), or prescription-strength Lamisil (terbinafine)
  • Topical steroid medications to reduce painful inflammation
  • Oral antibiotics if bacterial infections develop due to raw skin and blisters

Your healthcare provider may also recommend home treatments to help clear up the infection, such as soaking your feet in warm salt water or vinegar. Tea tree oil also improves athlete's foot.

When to Seek Medical Help

Consider seeking medical attention for a blister if:

  • The blister gets bigger.
  • The blister starts weeping pus (yellow or green, sometimes smelly or fluid).
  • The area becomes increasingly swollen or inflamed.
  • You suspect the blister is infected (increased warmth and redness).
  • The blister is not healing with OTC medications (it should be nearly healed after two weeks and completely healed after one month).

In these cases, drainage may be required.

Complications

In some cases, athlete's foot can lead to complications.

Mild complications can include an allergic reaction to the fungus, which can lead to blistering on the feet or hands. It’s also possible for the fungal infection to return even after being treated.

A secondary bacterial infection can develop if blisters are filled with pus. This can lead to more severe complications. Signs of a bacterial infection include:

  • Swollen feet
  • Warmth on feet
  • Pain
  • Pus drainage
  • Fever

While uncommon, bacterial infections can spread to the lymphatic system and infect the lymph nodes.

Do Not Pop Blisters

Popping blisters is not recommended. The bubble itself is a layer that protects against infection. Once the barrier is removed, the wound is exposed and can become infected. If a blister bursts on its own, do not peel off any dead skin.

Prevention

There are many simple changes a person can make to prevent athlete's foot, including:

  • Regularly washing socks, beddings, and towels
  • Rinsing feet with soap and water every day (dry thoroughly between the toes)
  • Not sharing socks, shoes, or towels with others
  • Wearing sandals in public showers
  • Going barefoot when resting or at home to let your feet breathe
  • Using antifungal powder on your feet
  • Wearing shoes made with breathable materials
  • Wearing socks made out of breathable fibers, such as cotton or wool, or made out of synthetic fibers that help keep moisture away from your skin

Summary

Athlete's foot is a common fungal infection that affects the skin on or around the feet. It is typically caused by sweat and moisture in tight shoes that do not allow your feet to breathe. It can lead to fluid-filled blisters.

Treatment for athlete's foot includes over-the-counter topical antifungal medications or prescription-strength medications for more severe cases. It's possible to prevent athlete's foot and its blisters by using good hygiene measures.

A Word From Verywell

Athlete's foot can be painful and uncomfortable. If you experience blisters from athlete's foot, consider trying one of the many antifungal medications available for purchase over the counter, without a prescription. Don't hesitate to reach out to a healthcare provider to discuss the best option for you, or when more serious intervention may be needed.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Should I pop an athlete's foot blister?

    Blisters that appear on the sole or instep of your feet may be a symptom of athlete’s foot. You should never pop an athlete's foot blister, as that removes the protective barrier, which will make it more likely to become infected.

  • How should you remove shoes from a foot with athlete’s foot?

    Remove your shoe by very gently slipping it off. Try to avoid making rough contact with any skin that is infected or has blisters.

Was this page helpful?
12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. University of Michigan Health. Athlete's foot.

  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Tinea infections (ringworm).

  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Blisters.

  4. Sasagawa Y. Internal environment of footwear is a risk factor for tinea pedisJ Dermatol. 2019;46(11):940-946. doi:10.1111/1346-8138.15060

  5. Becker BA, Childress MA. Common foot problems: over-the-counter treatments and home care. Am Fam Physician. 2018;98(5):298-303.

  6. Thomas B, Falk J, Allan GM. Topical management of tinea pedisCan Fam Physician. 2021;67(1):30. doi:10.46747/cfp.670130

  7. Kelly S, Liu D, Wang T, Rajpara A, Franano C, Aires D. Vinegar sock soak for tinea pedis or onychomycosisJ Am Acad Dermatol. 2017:S0190-9622(17)32448-9. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2017.09.043

  8. Satchell AC, Saurajen A, Bell C, Barnetson RS. Treatment of interdigital tinea pedis with 25% and 50% tea tree oil solution: A randomized, placebo-controlled, blinded studyAustralas J Dermatol. 2002;43(3):175-178. doi:10.1046/j.1440-0960.2002.00590.x

  9. Solomon M, Greenbaum H, Shemer A, Barzilai A, Baum S. Toe web infection: epidemiology and risk factors in a large cohort studyDermatology. 2021;237(6):902-906. doi:10.1159/000510540

  10. Kintsurashvili N, Kvlividze O, Galdava G. Prevalence and risk factors of tinea pedis in Georgian defense forcesBMJ Mil Health. 2021;167(6):433-436. doi:10.1136/bmjmilitary-2019-001397

  11. Kara Polat A, Akın Belli A, Göre Karaali M, Koku Aksu AE. The attitudes, behaviors, and opinions about non-pharmacological agents in patients with tinea pedisDermatol Ther. 2020;33(6):e14041. doi:10.1111/dth.14041

  12. Kovitwanichkanont T, Chong AH. Superficial fungal infectionsAust J Gen Pract. 2019;48(10):706-711. doi:10.31128/AJGP-05-19-4930