Nobody wants to talk about it, but it’s common, it’s irritating and if you’re an athlete – especially in our hot, humid climate – you’re more likely to need to know solutions for it. I’m talking about athlete’s foot. For non-athletes, knowing what athlete’s foot is, how it spreads, and how to prevent it might save you some grief and inconvenience this summer.
It’s a Fungus
Athlete’s foot is a fungus that can cause a rash, itching, and irritation on the feet. It affects any aspect of the foot. The rash will likely appear scaly, typically itches, and can cause a burning sensation. It can affect one or both feet and even spread to other parts of the body if it remains untreated. Scratching or picking at the rash can worsen the situation.
How it’s Contracted
Like most fungi, athlete’s foot is contagious and you catch it by being in contact with someone else who has it. This means direct contact is obviously a culprit, but it can also be spread when an infected person walks barefoot on shower floors, or shares things like towels or shoes with people who aren’t yet infected.
Fungus can grow very rapidly in warm, damp places like shower floors, saunas, swimming pool showers, baths in dorms and especially locker rooms – all common breeding grounds for athlete’s foot.
Because the fungus likes warm, damp places, athletes who are competing during the summer are at higher risk. Not only are you probably exposed to all of the places the fungus likes to grow, but your feet are warm and damp even more often. That being said, take extra precaution during summer months to try to prevent athlete’s foot.
The best thing you can do is try to keep your feet dry, especially between your toes. Airing it out can be helpful. If your feet get particularly sweaty during practices or games throughout summer, keep extra pairs of socks with you so you can change them out regularly. Wear shoes that breathe, and alternate them so you always have a dry pair. You can also use an antifungal powder on your feet to prevent the spread of the infection.
It’s also important to try and avoid places where the fungus is likely hiding. If you have to share a communal shower, or will be walking around a sauna or public pool, don’t go barefoot. Wear waterproof sandals or shoes to keep your feet from coming into contact with the floor.
Athlete’s foot can often be treated with over-the-counter medication. Your doctor can recommend a product that might provide relief. If the rash gets progressively worse, shows sign of more serious infection, or you’re diabetic, contact your doctor for stronger treatment.
Dr. Han is board-certified in Podiatry and cares for patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s Berthelsen Main Campus, Spring Medical and Diagnostic Center, and The Vintage Clinic. He’s also a certified athletic trainer.