Athlete’s foot is one of the most common fungal infections affecting millions of people each year. Despite the name, athlete’s foot can happen to anyone regardless of activity level, age, or gender if the proper steps to prevent the fungus aren’t taken.
The condition is caused by a variety of fungi called dermophytes that are also responsible for other fungal infections like ringworm and jock itch. A warm, moist environment and the presence of keratin, on which the fungi feed, form the perfect recipe for athlete’s foot. The mildly contagious condition causes feet to become dry, itchy and blistered. Luckily, since athlete’s foot and other foot fungi are so common, several effective prevention and treatment methods exist.
Types of Athlete’s Foot:
Athlete’s foot is typically characterized by dry, itchy skin with red blisters and a foul odor. Many people don’t know that three different types of infection present differently.
1.) Toe Web Infection -- Also known as an interdigital infection, this occurs when the fungus resides between your toes. It is common for the infection to start between your fourth and fifth toes and spread depending on the severity or interference from bacteria. Most toe web infections are accompanied by red, itchy skin and a burning sensation between the toes. In extreme cases, the skin may appear green and give off a foul-smelling discharge.
2.) Vesicular Infection -- This type of infection can occur anywhere on your foot and can be identified by small red blisters that may be itchy or painful. Symptoms tend to worsen during warmer months, and severe infection could result from blisters that burst coming into contact with bacteria. If you have this type of infection, closely observe the soles and between your toes where blisters typically develop.
3.) Moccasin Infection -- Itchy skin that thickens and cracks or peels is a common sign of a moccasin infection. This fungus covers the sole of your foot, and the rash can spread to other areas of the foot. If the infection gets to your toenails, it can cause the nails to crumble and possibly fall off.
To reduce your chances of developing athlete’s foot, you can take some steps and eliminate things in your daily routine. While there is no guarantee that anyone can avoid athlete’s foot altogether, these tips are proven effective and will significantly reduce your chances of contracting a foot fungus.
1.) Wear Shower Shoes -- In public areas where you may be barefoot, like pools, gyms, locker rooms, and hotel rooms, it is imperative to wear flip-flops or shower shoes. Shower shoes offer a barrier between the soles of your feet and the ground, significantly reducing your risk of contracting an infection. Many types of bacteria and fungi, including the fungus that causes athlete’s foot, thrive in warm, moist environments like the floors of indoor pools, showers, and locker rooms. If someone with athlete’s foot walks on one of these surfaces without shoes and you do the same, you are highly likely to pick up the fungus.
2.) Keep Your Feet Dry -- Because of the fungus’ ability to thrive in warm, moist environments, the combination of sweaty feet inside stifling shoes can put you at risk. Avoid shoes made of synthetic materials like rubber or plastic, as these cause the feet to sweat. Especially during warmer months, try to opt for breathable footwear like sandals or flip-flops.
3.) Wash Your Feet -- Though dirty feet don’t directly cause athlete’s foot, they can worsen an infection, especially if you have popped blisters. To limit the bacteria on your feet, wash them daily with soap and water and dry them thoroughly.
4.) Wear Moisture Wicking Socks -- Not only do socks provide a barrier between bare feet and possibly infected surfaces, but many types of socks are made of moisture-wicking material that can help to keep your feet dry. Fungi do not want to live on dry feet, so natural fabrics and moisture-wicking socks can help to keep your feet fungus free. If your socks get wet, change them, and wear a fresh pair of socks daily.
5.) Don’t Share Shoes or Linens -- Whether you know that someone has athlete’s foot or not, it is a good rule of thumb to avoid sharing shoes, towels, and linens if possible. If you live with someone who has athlete’s foot, make sure you wear shoes in areas where infected feet have been and try to avoid contact with the infection through direct touch and transmittable surfaces.
If you contract athlete’s foot or another foot fungus, there are several non-prescription and self-care options before heading to the doctor. For more severe infections, or if these at-home methods don’t work, talk with your doctor about medications that can help.
1.) Use Antifungal Products -- Many antifungal products are available over the counter at affordable prices. Products like terbinafine and clotrimazole have proven to be extremely effective for people suffering from fungal infections. There is a wide selection of formulations, including creams, gels, soaks, lotions, powders, and sprays that you can use depending on your preferences. Follow the directions on the product’s label and apply the product as directed. Continue to use the product for one to two weeks after the infection has cleared to prevent reoccurrence.
2.) Alternate Shoes -- If you already have a foot fungus, it is important to alter the conditions, so the fungus does not spread. Damp shoes are a breeding ground for many types of fungus and bacteria, threatening the treatment of your infection. Daily alternating your shoes allows the shoes to dry from any moisture they may have picked up and prevent the spreading of the infection. Changing socks is another excellent way to keep feet dry while preventing foot fungus and actively warding it off. The less the fungus spreads, the easier it will be to treat, so even amid an infection, practice the prevention techniques listed above to help yourself and protect others.
3.) Do Not Itch -- A common symptom of fungal infections is the itching. If you itch, you may break off the nearby healthy skin and inadvertently spread the infection. Resist the urge to itch or pick at the skin while treating athlete’s foot. The itching will make the treatment process longer and could cause a more severe infection.
With consistent good foot hygiene and a few sensible practices, you can significantly reduce your risk of developing athlete’s foot. Especially for people who find themselves in settings where the fungus commonly spreads, it is important to be aware of the conditions so you can protect your feet. If you do develop athlete’s foot, remember to stay vigilant even once the infection clears because infections can reoccur. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing frequent or severe infections.