Itchy feet? Although you may chalk it up to plain old restlessness, it could also be athlete’s foot or eczema.

These two conditions are distinct, but people often confuse them because of their similar symptoms.

This article distinguishes between athlete’s foot and eczema and provides you with tips to prevent and manage each condition.

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Athlete’s foot, also known as tinea pedis, is a fungal skin infection that can occur on your feet. It most commonly affects the skin between the toes but can also spread to the sole, the heel, and under the toenails.

The infection is contagious and can spread through direct skin contact or contact with skin flakes. It can enter through open skin, cracks, or wounds, and it thrives in moist and warm environments.

That’s why this infection commonly occurs on feet. For example, people commonly contract the infection through standing in communal showers.

On the other hand, eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that can affect quality of life and lead to infection if not properly treated. It can occur on any part of your body, including your feet. It is not contagious.

Eczema likely results from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. People with eczema may also have a dysfunctional skin barrier, so their skin may tend to be drier or more easily irritated by allergens and fragrances.

Athlete’s foot and eczema have many similarities.

Both can cause skin redness, dryness, itchiness, and cracking. The affected skin may also thicken, swell, and turn white.

A rare form of acute inflammation can occur with athlete’s foot. In these cases, blisters, open sores, and bumps filled with pus may appear on your feet.

When you have eczema, infected skin can develop blisters, sores, and pus bumps as well. In severe cases, the blisters can weep and leak liquid.

Athlete’s foot is often diagnosed via a physical examination, though some healthcare professionals may also conduct a skin sample test to rule out other conditions. This involves scraping a small amount of skin and examining it to identify fungal spores.

To diagnose eczema, a healthcare professional will typically take a careful history and perform a physical exam. They may also perform a skip biopsy. Since allergies are common with eczema, healthcare professionals may do allergy tests to look for triggers.

If you have athlete’s foot, a healthcare professional may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription topical antifungal medications that can help eliminate the fungus. In some rare cases, they may recommend oral antifungal medication.

You can help reduce fungal growth by washing and drying your feet regularly. It’s also helpful to wear socks made with natural fabrics or quick-drying fabrics to minimize moisture. Avoid wearing tight shoes and, if possible, alternate the shoes you wear each day.

To prevent spread, be diligent about wearing flip-flops in public pools and changing rooms and avoid sharing towels, linens, or shoes with others.

If you’re dealing with an eczema flare-up, you may find symptom relief through using OTC creams and shampoos that reduce redness and itching. It’s also important to avoid harsh soaps.

Avoid wearing rough or non-breathable fabrics and try to avoid scratching as best you can. You may use oral antihistamines for nighttime itch, but they’re not recommended for daytime use.

A healthcare professional may also prescribe topical steroids, topical immunomodulator medications, antihistamines, light therapy (phototherapy), or oral or injectable medications.

Because eczema is an inflammatory skin condition, eating more anti-inflammatory foods, such as fatty fish, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, may help ease a flare-up.

Other lifestyle habits may also be beneficial in managing flare-ups. Drink lots of water and moisturize with fragrance-free products to keep your skin hydrated.

Think you might have eczema? Read one writer’s story about their diagnosis journey and see Healthline’s picks of the 12 best skin care products for eczema.

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It’s important to wash your feet regularly with soap and water. This can help prevent athlete’s foot in particular.

Additionally, you can help minimize your risk of athlete’s foot by:

  • drying your feet with a clean towel after taking a shower or bath or swimming
  • wearing flip-flops or slippers around public swimming pools, changing rooms, and showers
  • avoiding very tight-fitting shoes
  • taking your shoes off as often as possible
  • wearing natural fabrics or fabrics that dry quickly
  • washing your socks, bedding, and towels regularly at 140°F (60ºC) or more

The following strategies may help minimize eczema flare-ups:

  • Identify and avoid allergens and triggers.
  • Moisturize your skin daily.
  • Wear cotton clothing and avoid tight-fitting clothes.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Look for healthy ways to manage stress.
  • Use a humidifier.
  • Wash your laundry with unscented detergent.
  • Avoid excessively hot baths and showers.
  • Avoid sudden changes in temperature.

Learn more about preventing eczema flare-ups, especially during the summer.

Here are questions people often ask about athlete’s foot and eczema.

Can eczema be mistaken for athlete’s foot?

Yes, eczema can be mistaken for athlete’s foot since the symptoms can be similar.

If you suspect you have either condition, make careful note of your symptoms, lifestyle, and environment to discuss with a healthcare professional such as a podiatrist or dermatologist.

Can I use eczema cream on athlete’s foot?

No, eczema cream will not be effective to treat the fungal infection that causes athlete’s foot. You will likely need an OTC or prescription antifungal medication to treat athlete’s foot.

Is athlete’s foot the same as eczema?

No. Eczema is a chronic inflammatory skin condition, while athlete’s foot is a fungal infection of the skin.

Although athlete’s foot and eczema can both affect the skin of the feet, they are two very different conditions.

Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection that can be transmitted through direct skin contact or contact with skin flakes, often in public pools and changing rooms.

Eczema is not contagious and is the result of genetic and environmental factors.

Both conditions can cause skin redness, cracks, lightening, and thickening, as well as itchiness and blisters that may weep.

Regardless of which one you have, it’s important to practice proper hygiene. Wash and dry your feet thoroughly, wear natural or quick-drying fabrics, and do laundry regularly. Consider wearing flip-flops in public spaces such as changing rooms.

It’s also important to stay hydrated, eat a varied diet, and avoid any known inflammatory triggers.