The itching and burning of athlete’s foot is a common enemy lurking throughout locker rooms. But you can get this foot condition even if you haven’t been in a gym. It includes two separate infections: one that affects the skin on your feet, which is classic athlete’s foot, and another infection that affects your toenails, called mycotic nails.
They’re both very common because exposing yourself to the fungus that causes them is easy to do. Dermatologist Pamela Ng, MD, explains what you need to know about this common condition and top ways to stop it in its tracks.
Athlete’s foot is a highly contagious fungal infection that is part of a larger family of fungal infections affecting the skin and nails. These include “jock itch” and ringworm. Because it’s a fungus, it thrives in the moist, warm climate of your gym locker room, bathrooms and showers. You get athlete’s foot by direct contact with contaminated surfaces, most commonly within these shared communal spaces, but also brewing inside your sweaty, tight-fitting shoes.
Symptoms of athlete’s foot include a scaly, itchy rash on the feet and between toes. Mycotic nails appear discolored to a brownish-yellow and the nails become thick, brittle and separated from the nail bed. These things are more than just a cosmetic embarrassment; for some, they can become a serious health concern.
“If you are diabetic or immune-compromised, it’s important to get foot fungus issues under control,” says Dr. Ng. “The fungal infections can cause breakdown of the skin and lead to conditions like cellulitis or foot ulcers.”
Tips to combat foot fungus
The best way to combat foot fungus is to reduce your exposure to it. There are simple things you can do to prevent from contracting foot and nail fungus.
- Wash and dry your feet well after exercising. Be sure to get between your toes.
- If you use a communal area such as a shower at your gym or the local pool, wear waterproof shoes such as flip-flops to ensure your feet don’t come into contact with contaminated surfaces.
- If you suspect a case of athlete’s foot is brewing, treat it right away with over-the-counter creams mentioned above.
- Because athlete’s foot and toenail fungus thrives in dark, damp environments, wear shoes that breathe and don’t trap sweat inside of them, and change your socks often. Invest in some socks that wick moisture away from your skin.
- Be sure to protect your feet at home if someone has a foot infection.