Eczema and athlete’s foot cause similar symptoms, making them difficult to tell apart. However, eczema typically appears around the elbows and knees, while athlete’s foot typically affects the toes and feet.
Despite their similar symptoms, the two conditions are unrelated. Environmental and genetic factors contribute to eczema, while athlete’s foot is the result of a fungal infection.
This article reviews the differences between athlete’s foot and eczema, including causes, treatments, outlook, and more.
Eczema and athlete’s foot both affect the skin and can cause itchy, red, and inflamed patches. However, they are two distinct conditions with different causes, typical locations, and treatments.
One of the main differences is the underlying cause. Athlete’s foot
Athlete’s foot tends to affect the toes and feet. Eczema typically affects the joints, such as the elbows and knees, but it can affect other areas too.
With treatment, athlete’s foot should go away on its own, though a person can have subsequent infections. Eczema will typically require long-term management to help prevent flare-ups.
The table below outlines the differences between athlete’s foot and eczema:
|Is it contagious?||Causes||Symptoms||Where it develops||Treatment|
• environmental factors, such as exposure to irritants, pollutants, and allergens
• rough, scaly, or tough skin patches
• sensitive skin
• inflamed, discolored skin
• swelling in different areas
• oozing or crusting
|• can be anywhere but common around knees and elbows||• topical steroids|
• topical antihistamines
• emollient creams
• avoiding triggers, such as chemicals, allergens, and other substances
|Athlete’s foot||yes||• fungus often contracted from moist public areas||• red, itchy skin fissures or scales, often between the toes or on the feet||• typically between the toes but also on the feet||• antifungal creams and ointments|
• oral medications
Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition associated with dry, itchy patches of skin. There are seven types of eczema. The most common is atopic dermatitis, which leads people to use the terms interchangeably.
More than 31 million people in the United States have some form of eczema, reports the National Eczema Association. It can develop at any time from childhood through adulthood.
People often associate eczema with flare-ups, or flares. Flares are periods of time, lasting for several days to several weeks, when symptoms worsen. With proper treatment and management, a person can help reduce the occurrence and severity of flares.
Eczema symptoms can vary between people. One person’s eczema may look different from another’s, and it can even look different in different areas of a person’s body.
The most common eczema symptom is itchiness. Other common skin symptoms include:
- rough, scaly, or tough patches
- sensitive skin
- inflamed, discolored skin
- swelling in different areas
- oozing or crusting
A person may have one, some, or all of the symptoms associated with eczema. Symptoms can occur anywhere but often occur around the joints, such as the elbows and knees.
What causes eczema?
The exact cause of eczema is unknown. However, experts believe several factors can contribute to its development, including a person’s environment and genetics.
Environmental causes include contact with certain irritants or allergens that cause skin inflammation. Examples include:
- pet dander
Genetically, a person may have a filaggrin deficiency. This protein helps maintain moisture in the skin.
Learn more about eczema and genetics here.
How to manage eczema
Treatment and management may depend on the eczema’s severity and its cause.
A doctor may recommend medications for moderate to severe cases, such as:
- topical steroids
For milder cases, a person may be able to use creams and ointments that provide additional moisture to the skin, such as petroleum jelly.
A person should also try to avoid known triggers whenever possible. This can help prevent flares. A person can work with an allergist or another doctor to help determine their triggers.
Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection transmitted through direct or indirect contact with people who have the infection. A person can take steps to prevent infection by keeping their feet clean and dry and wearing footwear in moist or damp public areas, such as locker rooms.
Athlete’s foot causes an itchy, red rash that often forms around the toes and on the feet. Treatment typically involves topical or oral antifungal medications.
Athlete’s foot symptoms
Athlete’s foot causes fissures or scales on the skin that are often itchy and red. They typically occur between the toes but can also occur on the feet.
What causes athlete’s foot?
Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection. Dermatophyte fungi cause it. These fungi feed on keratin. The infection can recur, which means a person must continue to take steps to prevent infection.
Learn more about foot fungi here.
How to manage athlete’s foot
A person should take steps to prevent athlete’s foot by keeping their feet dry and wearing footwear in moist public areas. If an infection develops, doctors will likely recommend a topical or oral antifungal medication.
People can take steps to prevent athlete’s foot infections and avoid eczema triggers. The following sections outline how.
Preventing athlete’s foot
To help prevent athlete’s foot, people can:
- avoid walking barefoot in public, moist areas, such as pools, saunas, or locker rooms
- wash feet every day with soap and dry them completely
- alternate shoes daily and avoid using wet or moist shoes
- keep feet dry
- not share shoes, socks, towels, or other linens with someone who has athlete’s foot
A person may not be able to prevent eczema entirely since genetics and environmental factors play a role. However, a person can take steps to avoid triggers and prevent flares, such as:
- reducing and managing stress with stress reduction strategies
- preventing dry skin by applying emollient moisturizers safe for eczema-prone skin
- avoiding irritants, such as pollen, pet dander, harsh chemicals, soaps, dyes, perfumes, and other substances when possible
A person may also wish to consider trying to understand their triggers and adapting their routines to reduce flares. For example, the effects of dry air on the skin in winter may require a different routine to that in the summer to help keep the skin moist.
A person may wish to contact a doctor if they develop an unfamiliar or severe rash that does not respond to treatment or does not go away after a few days. A doctor can help diagnose and treat the rash.
While some people with eczema find it improves as they get older, regular flares are common. However, avoiding triggers and adopting a good skin care routine can help people manage the condition.
Athlete’s foot should clear with antifungal treatment. Reinfection is possible, so people will need to take precautions to help reduce the likelihood.
Athlete’s foot and eczema both cause itchy, red, inflamed skin. Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection, while eczema is likely to have genetic or environmental causes.
Athlete’s foot typically occurs on the feet and toes, while eczema is more widespread. Eczema often occurs around the elbows and knees but may appear anywhere on the body.
Eczema is not contagious, but athlete’s foot is contagious. People can develop athlete’s foot when their skin comes in contact with the fungi that cause it. People may wish to avoid walking barefoot in moist public places to prevent infection.
Treatments for the two conditions also differ. Athlete’s foot requires fungal creams. Eczema often clears with topical steroids and moisturizers.
People can eradicate an athlete’s foot infection, but people with eczema are likely to have recurrent periods of flares and remission.