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How to Treat (and Prevent) Athlete’s Foot

Man scratching his athlete's foot

Athlete’s foot isn’t just for athletes: as many as 70 percent of people will get athlete’s foot at some point in their lives. Here’s what to do.

Although no one wants to admit to having it, it’s an incredibly common affliction. And the better you understand it, the more easily you can treat it, and prevent it from happening again.

We’ve put together the essentials you need to know so you can keep your feet healthy. Read on to learn how to treat and prevent this ugly problem!

What is Athlete’s Foot?

This fungal infection typically starts when your feet get damp and sweaty, and can’t “breathe” or air out properly. That’s why it’s associated with athletes, who often sweat heavily in tight, confining shoes. However, as the numbers show, it can happen to anyone.

Because it’s a fungal infection, you can also spread it to other people. Socks, towels, and floors can all transmit the fungus from one person to the next. It can also transfer from one foot to the other. Athlete’s foot can spread to your toenails, too, causing them to crack or thicken.

The infection often starts between your toes, where moisture tends to collect, so you may not notice it right away. The symptoms usually begin with itching or a rough rash on the skin. But there are a few different types of athlete’s foot; let’s take a quick look at each one:

  • Moccasin: The moccasin type of infection means the fungus has spread across the sole of your foot. Sometimes, it will also start to spread up your heel or onto the sides of your foot. This infection usually comes with painful, itchy skin. The skin may start to crack as the infection progresses.
  • Toe Web: The “toe web” type of athlete’s foot refers to when the infection just stays between your toes. You might have itching, redness, peeling, or burning on the skin there. If left untreated, the rash can take on an unpleasant odor, and you might even start to see discharge.
  • Ulcerative: In rare cases, athlete’s foot can lead to ulcers or sores on your feet. This is typically the most painful type of athlete’s foot, and also puts you at risk for a dangerous infection.
  • Vesicular: This type of athlete’s foot creates blisters on your feet. The blisters can happen anywhere on the foot and might feel painful or itchy. If the blisters break, you’ll also be at higher risk for a serious infection.  

Treatment for Athlete’s Foot

Athlete’s foot is rarely serious unless a break in the skin becomes infected. However, it’s a nasty problem that you’ll want to get rid of right away.

Luckily, treatment is usually simple. You can use over-the-counter antifungal products to get rid of a mild athlete’s foot problem. However, it’s a good idea to visit a doctor or podiatrist first to determine if you really have athlete’s foot, and what the best course of treatment will be.

If you have a more serious fungal infection, you might need to get a prescription for a stronger topical treatment. You may also be prescribed oral antifungal pills for severe cases.

Some people use DIY treatments involving ingredients like tea tree oil or vinegar. Most of these remedies are safe, but it’s still wise to talk to your doctor first, to make sure they won’t irritate the skin or increase your risk of harmful infection.

The Prevention Tips You Need to Know

woman standing barefoot on tiled shower floor

Want to prevent an embarrassing, uncomfortable case of athlete’s foot? You can’t totally ensure you’ll never get it, but these tips will help you avoid it most of the time.

Avoid Walking Barefoot

Since this fungus is contagious, preventing it means avoiding the situations where you can pick it up. One of the main ways to keep athlete’s foot away is to avoid walking barefoot, especially in public places.

The fungus thrives on moisture, so walking barefoot in a damp, public place like a shared locker room shower increases your chances of catching it. Walking barefoot on dry, private surfaces, like the floors in your own home, isn’t as risky. However, if you’ve recently had athlete’s foot, you could reinfect yourself by walking barefoot at home.

Don’t Share Fabrics

Sharing socks, towels, and other fabrics makes it easy for athlete’s foot to transfer from someone else onto you. Avoid sharing these items as much as possible. Keep shared bathmats clean, since they’re another source of risk.  

Stay Clean

Washing your feet regularly will help make sure the fungus can’t take hold even if you do come into contact with it. Make sure to dry them thoroughly, too, including the spaces between your toes.

Don’t forget to keep your floors clean as well, especially if you’ll be walking barefoot on them.

Wear the Right Shoes and Socks

Make sure your shoes aren’t too tight and have enough ventilation so your feet don’t stay damp and sweaty. Look for socks that wick moisture away from the skin, especially if you’ll be doing something athletic.

Change your socks frequently if you’re sweating, and make sure to let your shoes dry out before wearing them again if they get damp.

All of these tips will help your feet stay clean, comfortable, and healthy, as well as free from athlete’s foot, so don’t hesitate to make them a habit!

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »
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