Psoriasis and athlete’s foot are two very different conditions, but both cause skin irritation.

Psoriasis is a genetic autoimmune disease that has several different types. It is not contagious. Athlete’s foot is caused by a fungal infection, and is very contagious.

While certain treatments can help you manage psoriasis and its symptoms, psoriasis has no cure. Athlete’s foot can be cured with antifungal medications, although it may reoccur if you’re not careful.

Knowing what signs to look for makes it easier to tell psoriasis and athlete’s foot apart. We’ll go over hallmark symptoms, risk factors, and treatment options.

Psoriasis and athlete’s foot have some symptoms in common, but they also have key differences. Here’s an overview of how both conditions can manifest.

Symptoms of psoriasis

Psoriasis causes faster-than-normal growth of skin cells, which makes them build up on the surface of your skin instead of falling off naturally.

If you have psoriasis, extra skin cells develop into scales, or thick, white-silver patches. These areas are often dry, itchy, and painful. Psoriasis can appear differently depending on the melanin of your skin (the pigment that gives our skin its color).

Psoriasis can look like:

  • red or inflamed patches of skin, covered by whitish-silvery scales
  • itching or burning of affected area
  • pain on or around scales
  • soreness
  • dry, cracked skin that may bleed
  • pitted or thickened nails
  • for some people, swollen and painful joints (may indicate psoriatic arthritis)

Symptoms of athlete’s foot

Athlete’s foot is a skin infection caused by a fungus. It develops when fungal cells begin to infect the skin, multiplying quickly.

The athlete’s foot infection thrives in areas prone to moisture, like between our toes. Scaling can appear on the heel and spread to other parts of the foot.

Athlete’s foot can look like:

  • rash on foot that may be red and scaly
  • macerated skin (whitish, soggy, and peeling)
  • itching and burning of affected area
  • chronic dryness, cracking
  • small blisters or ulcers

Some people may be more susceptible to athlete’s foot than others. This includes older adults, people who are immunocompromised, and people with diabetes.

Are psoriasis and athlete’s foot both contagious?

Because psoriasis is an autoimmune disease, it is not contagious. Psoriasis patches can be small and cover just a few dots of skin, or they can be large and cover large areas of your body. Psoriasis on the feet often occurs on the soles (bottom of foot).

Because athlete’s foot is caused by a fungus, it is contagious. You can catch athlete’s foot by coming into contact with infected surfaces, like clothing, shoes, and locker room floors.

You can also spread athlete’s foot to your hands by scratching or picking at infected areas. Athlete’s foot can affect one foot or both. If not treated successfully, or if prevention isn’t taken seriously, athlete’s foot can become a recurring problem.

These categories break down key factors to consider when evaluating whether you have psoriasis or athlete’s foot.

Affected body areas

Is your foot the only part of your body affected? If so, you may be more likely to have athlete’s foot.

If you notice the patches are developing on your elbow, knee, or other areas, it’s more likely to be psoriasis.

The fungus that causes athlete’s foot can spread to different parts of your body, so this isn’t a foolproof method for telling the difference between the two. You could also have another kind of fungal infection.

Response to antifungal treatment

You can buy over-the-counter antifungal creams and ointments (such as Lotrimin or Lamisil) at your pharmacy without a prescription.

Apply the medication as directed to the affected areas. If the rashes begin to disappear within a few days, you likely have athlete’s foot or another kind of fungal infection. If nothing happens, you may be dealing with psoriasis or a different skin condition.

Diagnosis with testing

The only way to be certain if your symptoms are caused by athlete’s foot or psoriasis, or something else entirely, is to have a skin test or fungal culture test.

During this test, your doctor will lightly scrape or swab infected skin to get a sample for lab testing. This test is usually quick and minimally invasive. You likely won’t experience any pain.

Treatments for psoriasis and athlete’s foot are different. Some can be acquired over the counter and in the form of home remedies, while others require a doctor’s prescription or appointment with a specialist.

Psoriasis treatment

Psoriasis treatments fall into three general categories:

  • Topical treatments. Some psoriasis creams and ointments are over the counter, while others require a prescription from your doctor. Topicals can keep your skin moisturized, help with itching, and reduce scaling.
  • Systemic medications. This includes both oral pills and injectable options. Psoriasis medications may modify or suppress your immune system to reduce inflammation and skin cell growth. These drugs can have serious side effects for certain people, and should always be taken as directed by your doctor.
  • Light therapy (phototherapy). Small amounts of controlled LED or UV light may slow the growth of skin cells, and reduce the rapid scaling and inflammation caused by psoriasis. Narrowband ultraviolet B (NB-UVB) light therapy, red or blue light therapy, and Excimer lasers (XTRAC is a main brand) are all used to treat psoriasis.

Topicals are commonly used for all levels of psoriasis. Medications and light therapies are typically reserved for those with a severe form of the condition.

Some people also try home remedies to treat symptoms of psoriasis. These include aloe vera gel, oatmeal baths, and adjusting your diet. Not all home remedies for psoriasis are backed by research. Consult your doctor before trying a new approach.

Athlete’s foot treatment

It’s important to treat athlete’s foot promptly and thoroughly. It will return if you don’t knock out the infection.

Here are the common treatment approaches for athlete’s foot:

  • Antifungal creams. These topical treatments kill fungal cells or stop their growth. You can get antifungals over the counter or by prescription.
  • Oral antifungal medications.
  • Intravenous (IV) antifungal medications. These will only be used in case of hospitalization for a severe infection.

Some people also try home remedies for athlete’s foot. These include tea tree oil and sea salt baths. Many home remedies, while popular, aren’t backed by science. You should consult with a doctor before trying any treatments for athlete’s foot on your own.

You can also still contract athlete’s foot again at any point, even if you cure it this time. It’s important to practice proper foot hygiene to lower your risk of getting it, or having it recur.

Athlete’s foot prevention

While psoriasis can be managed and treated, it is an autoimmune condition, and not preventable. However, athlete’s foot is a fungal infection, and can often be prevented.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), prevention strategies for athlete’s foot include:

  • keeping your toenails clean and trimmed
  • wearing shower shoes instead of going barefoot in locker rooms
  • airing your shoes/sneakers out, rotating which pairs you wear
  • washing your feet every day and drying them fully
  • the AAD recommends wearing socks made of fabrics that dry quickly or wick moisture away from your skin

Wearing properly fitting shoes can also prevent sweating and cramping for your feet. And make sure to change socks regularly — don’t keep wearing a dirty pair!

If you’re around someone with a confirmed case of athlete’s foot, don’t share towels, socks, or footwear. Make sure to wear shower shoes in shared areas.

Genetics is a primary risk factor for psoriasis. People of all racial and ethnic backgrounds can have psoriasis, but the condition is more prevalent in white people.

According to the National Institutes of Health, major risk factors associated with psoriasis include:

Research also suggests psoriasis is connected to several other conditions.

Having psoriasis may increase your risk of:

While being likely to get athlete’s foot may have a genetic component, most risk factors are behavioral and environmental.

People at higher risk for athlete’s foot include those who:

  • exercise or play sports a lot
  • wear tight-fitting shoes with damp socks
  • don’t wash and dry their feet thoroughly
  • wear the same shoes frequently
  • walk barefoot in public places (like gyms, showers, locker rooms, and saunas)
  • live in close quarters with a person who has an athlete’s foot infection
  • have a weakened immune system

If conservative or at-home treatments aren’t improving your feet’s condition, or if symptoms worsen, reach out to your doctor.

Your doctor will likely conduct a physical exam and lab test in order to make a diagnosis and begin treating you.

If your primary care doctor is unable to diagnose your condition, they may send you to a dermatologist (skin doctor) or podiatrist (foot doctor). If psoriasis is suspected and accompanied with symptoms of arthritis, you may be referred to a rheumatologist.

An athlete’s foot diagnosis usually involves straightforward treatment with an anti-fungal medication until symptoms resolve. But if you have psoriasis, your treatment will need to involve a more long-term plan to manage this chronic condition.

Both psoriasis and athlete’s foot can cause itching and irritation on your feet, but they have different underlying causes and treatments. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease and athlete’s foot is a fungal infection.

Psoriasis can affect any part of the body, while athlete’s foot usually just sticks to feet. However, fungal infections can also affect other areas of skin. Athlete’s foot symptoms often start in the toes because they’re close together, and can create damp conditions.

While psoriasis is a lifelong chronic condition, symptoms can be managed with topical and oral medications, and by avoiding triggers. Athlete’s foot can be cured with anti-fungal medications, and prevented by practicing proper hygiene.

If you’re worried about persistent symptoms of psoriasis or a fungal infection on one or both feet, reach out to your doctor. Simple tests can diagnose whether the issue is an infection or other skin condition, and make sure it’s treated promptly.