May 25, 2024

An athlete’s foot, also known as foot fungus, is a common infection that can itch, burn, and irritate the feet. The fungus thrives in warm, damp environments like locker rooms, public showers, swimming pools, and even your shoes and socks. 

While an athlete’s foot is not usually serious and often responds well to over-the-counter treatments, the infection can be stubborn to eliminate if you don’t take some preventive measures. 

There are several ways you can reduce your risk of getting an athlete’s foot or avoid spreading it to others if you already have it. 

Practising good foot hygiene, keeping feet clean and dry, avoiding infection hotspots, and not sharing personal items are all effective ways to prevent athlete’s foot. With some diligent prevention strategies, you can enjoy active and barefoot activities all summer long without worry.

What Is Foot Fungus?

Foot fungus, also known as athlete’s foot, is a common infection caused by fungi that live on the skin. The fungi that cause an athlete’s foot thrive in warm, moist environments like swimming pools, gyms, and locker rooms. As the name suggests, athlete’s foot often affects athletes and active individuals, but anyone can get this infection.

Where Do Fungi Thrive?

Fungi thrive in warm, damp areas. Some of the places fungi often grow and spread include:

  • Public swimming pools, gyms, and locker rooms: The warm, wet environment is ideal for fungi growth. Walking barefoot in these communal areas can expose your feet to fungi.
  • Showers: Public showers and gym showers provide a perfect breeding ground for fungi with their warm, wet conditions. Wear shower shoes when using public or gym showers.
  • Sweaty shoes: Tight-fitting, wet shoes from sweating create the ideal environment for fungi. Alternate your shoes and use antifungal powder.

Symptoms

Common symptoms of athlete’s foot include:

•Itching, burning, and stinging sensation between the toes and on the soles of the feet. The skin may be red, scaly, and cracked.

•Blisters that ooze or get crusty.

•Toenails that become thick, yellow, and crumble. Debris may collect under the nails.

•A bad smell coming from the feet due to infection.

•The skin between toes peeling, cracking, and scaling.

Treatment and Home Remedies

The good news is athlete’s foot is usually not serious and can often be treated easily with over-the-counter antifungal creams, ointments, or sprays. Oral antifungal medications are also available for severe or persistent infections. Some home remedies that may help include:

• Soak your feet in a mixture of water and white vinegar or water and baking soda. The acidic or alkaline solution can help prevent fungus growth.

•Applying tea tree oil, coconut oil, or eucalyptus oil to the feet. These essential oils have antifungal properties.

•Using over-the-counter antifungal powder on your feet and in your shoes.

•Wearing socks made of natural, breathable fibres like cotton or wool. Change socks daily.

•Alternating and drying your shoes to prevent moisture buildup.

How Do They Spread?

The athlete’s foot spreads through direct or indirect contact with the fungus. Some ways it can spread include:

•Walking barefoot in public areas where the fungus may live, such as swimming pools, gyms, and locker rooms. Always wear shower shoes in these areas.

•Sharing personal items like towels, shoes, socks, and nail clippers with someone who has an athlete’s foot. The fungi can easily spread from items to you.

•Not properly drying your feet after bathing or swimming, allowing moisture to sit on your feet. The damp environment aids fungal growth and spread.

•Wearing tight-fitting, non-breathable shoes and socks that trap moisture against your feet. Change shoes and socks frequently to avoid creating optimal conditions for the fungi.

How Contagious Is It?

An athlete’s foot is contagious and can spread through direct contact with an infected person or indirect contact with contaminated surfaces. The fungus can be spread as long as it is untreated. However, the infection is not highly contagious and typically will not spread with casual contact or by airborne spread.

Diagnosis

To diagnose an athlete’s foot, your doctor will examine your feet and ask about your symptoms. They may scrape off a bit of skin or nail and examine it under a microscope to check for signs of fungal infection. A culture may be taken by swabbing the infected area to grow and identify the fungus. Blood tests are typically not needed to diagnose this condition.

Can I Catch It From Someone in My House?

Yes, you can catch an athlete’s foot from someone in your household. The fungi that cause this infection can spread through direct or indirect contact. To avoid spreading athlete’s foot in your home:

•Encourage prompt treatment of anyone with symptoms. The sooner treatment starts, the less contagious the infection will be.

•Disinfect common areas like showers, bathrooms, and floors. Clean and dry damp areas where bare feet may expose skin to fungi.

•Don’t share personal items like shoes, socks, towels, and nail clippers that could spread the infection.

•Wash all bedding, socks, and towels in hot water and detergent to kill the fungi.

•Practice good foot hygiene like frequent hand washing, drying feet well after bathing, and wearing breathable shoes.

Where Can I Walk Barefoot?

It is best to avoid walking barefoot in public areas. Some places where it is safe to walk barefoot include:

•Your own home, especially if you properly disinfect and practice good hygiene to avoid spreading infection from infected housemates.

•Natural bodies of salt water like the ocean or sea. The salt is antifungal and can help prevent or treat an athlete’s foot. Freshwater lakes and swimming pools still pose a risk.

• Sandy beaches. The sand exfoliates and dries your feet, and is less hospitable to fungi. However, the sand can irritate cracked skin, so take caution.

•Your yard. As long as you don’t have damp, shady areas, walking barefoot in your yard is typically safe. But avoid walking barefoot in your yard if you have untreated athlete’s foot to avoid spreading it.

What About Pedicures? Are They Safe?

Pedicures can be safe if proper sanitation and hygiene practices are followed. To reduce your risk of getting athlete’s foot from a pedicure:

•Choose a reputable salon with sterilized tools and foot baths. High-volume salons may be less diligent in cleaning.

•Bring your tools like nail clippers, files, and callus shavers. Don’t share tools during your pedicure.

•Sit in a unit with continuous running, filtered water. Stagnant foot baths are more prone to fungus and bacteria buildup.

•Dry your feet thoroughly when done, including between your toes. Don’t put your shoes back on immediately after.

•Moisturize well to avoid cracks in the skin where fungi enter.

•Consider bringing antifungal foot powder to apply before and after your pedicure.

•Ask the salon what sanitation steps they use to clean foot baths between clients. There should be cleaning tablets or filters and regular draining and disinfecting.

•Signs of an unsafe pedicure include callused tools, murky/dirty foot bath water, and technicians performing pedicures on open wounds or sores. Seek treatment if any infection develops after a pedicure.