Athlete’s foot is the most common fungal skin infection, and swimmers are particularly prone. The fungi that cause the various types of this condition thrive in moist, warm places. Athlete’s foot is highly contagious and most often picked up around swimming pools and in locker rooms from floors, towels, clothing, and other contaminated surfaces. Plus, the warm, damp, dark environment of swimmers’ feet—especially between the toes—is ideal for cultivating the infection.
Below is some important information swimmers need to know about athlete’s foot.
Symptoms of Athlete’s Foot
Athlete’s foot usually begins between the toes, but it can appear anywhere on your feet. Affected skin may be red, itchy, dry, cracked, or covered with a scaly rash; it may also burn, sting, or be sore. In addition, toenails can be affected. They become discolored, dry, cracked, thicker, or even crumbly, and they can fall off in severe cases. Sometimes, blisters or ulcers appear on the bottom of the foot as well.
The infection may affect one or both feet and can spread to your hands and elsewhere on your body. Secondary bacterial infections may occur, too. Your doctor usually diagnoses the condition with just a physical examination. If you’re self-diagnosing, keep in mind that athlete’s foot can resemble severely dry skin or eczema, and vice versa; not every skin condition on a foot is a fungal infection.
Treating Athlete’s Foot
Typically, athlete’s foot can be easily treated with over-the-counter topical antifungal products (creams, lotions, or sprays). If your infection is severe, your doctor might prescribe stronger topical applications or oral antifungal pills. Secondary bacterial infections require topical or oral antibiotics.
Follow package directions and your doctor’s instructions for all antifungal and antibacterial medicines. Complete the full course of treatment, even if you appear cured sooner; symptoms often disappear before infections are completely resolved, and it’s easy for them to have a resurgence or recur.
To aid treatment, always thoroughly dry your feet—including between your toes—especially before putting on socks and shoes. Dry them last, though; don’t use a towel on or near your feet and then on other areas of your body. Launder socks and towels after each use in a washing machine and dryer.
Tips for Preventing Athlete’s Foot
Swimmers should use the following precautions and smart hygiene practices to greatly reduce their risk of developing an athlete’s foot infection.
- Wear flip-flops or water shoes when walking around the pool, locker room, public showers, and saunas
- Don’t use somebody else’s shoes
- Always use a clean towel when drying off after a swim or shower
- Thoroughly dry your feet, including between all toes, before putting your socks and shoes on
- Apply a dusting of talcum powder or antifungal powder to your feet after drying them off
- If possible, wear sandals or other shoes that breathe after a swim and/or shower
- Wear socks with closed shoes to absorb sweat; change your socks once or twice during the day if your feet tend to sweat
- Never wear damp socks
- Don’t wear tight shoes that prevent air circulation
- Try not to wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row so they have time to air out