What's the Difference Between Athlete's Foot and Toenail Fungus?

Posted by Dr. Jeffrey L. Adler

May 28, 2015 9:00:00 AM

athletes_footYou woke up this morning, slipped on your sandals, and noticed that your feet just don’t look or feel quite right. They itch, the skin is flaky, and you realize you’re actually embarrassed to be seen in public in this condition. So, you look to your computer for help. You type in your symptoms. It looks like you have a common foot fungus and it could be athlete’s foot or toenail fungus. But how can you tell the difference between the two and what can you do about it?

Similarities of Athlete’s Foot and Toenail Fungus

  • Both are fungal infections of the feet
  • Both grow in warm, wet places
  • Thrive in dark moist environments, like tennis shoes or boots
  • Can be easily spread
  • Easily contracted by people walking barefoot in public places such as swimming pools or locker rooms
  • If not treated, both will only continue to get worse


Athlete’s Foot

You don’t have to be an athlete to get Athlete’s foot. It’s a common fungal foot infection that occurs in men, women and children of all ages. It differs from toenail fungus in that it:

  • Grows on or in the top layer of skin
  • May cause your skin to burn and itch
  • Skin may peel, flake and crack
  • Usually just treated topically with non-prescription medications
  • Can lead to toenail fungal infections
  • Can easily return if not treated correctly and completely

Toenail Fungus

Toenail fungus is more common than people think, and can cause serious embarrassment to show your toes in public. It differs from athlete’s foot in that it:

  • Grows in the nail bed
  • Can turn the toenail a brownish, yellow color
  • Causes the toenail to get thicker, crumble and split, or even separate from the skin
  • Is treated with a laser, topical creams or oral medications
  • Does not lead to athlete’s foot


Both athlete’s foot and toenail fungus can be easily prevented by following some simple best practices for foot care. A New York podiatrists recommends:

  • Washing your feet regularly
  • Keeping your feet dry
  • Wearing socks that absorb moisture
  • Not going barefoot in public places
  • Not sharing socks and shoes with another person
  • Keeping toenails short and feet clean
  • Choosing reputable nail salons

While athlete’s foot and toenail fungus have many similarities, the biggest are the area of the foot that is being affected and the treatment option used to get rid of the infection.

If you think you have athlete’s foot or toenail fungus, contact a New York podiatrist at Adler Footcare. We believe feet shouldn’t hurt and neither should their treatment.

To learn about toenail fungus treatment, download the free eBook below.

Why choose adler footcare for toenail fungus

Topics: foot problems, Foot Care