Due to the nature of the environments swimmers spend a lot of time in barefoot—especially around pools, public showers, and locker rooms– their feet are exposed to a number of infection risks. Some of these risks are exacerbated by the fact that many swimmers have dry, cracked skin on their feet.
The fungal infection known as athlete’s foot is probably the most common, best-known condition to strike swimmers’ feet. However, verrucas are another big concern. Also known as plantar warts, they typically appear on the soles of the feet.
Verrucas are a superficial viral infection caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), which thrives in damp environments. This infection is highly contagious by contact. You can contract it just by standing on or walking barefoot across the same surface as someone with the infection, using the same towel as someone with these warts, or by direct contact. Small cracks, cuts, or abrasions in the skin of your feet make you more likely to pick up the infection.
Verruca (Plantar Wart) Symptoms
Plantar warts generally appear on the bottom of the feet near the toes. The growths often sort of resemble heads of cauliflower with a rough surface and tiny black dots on them, but they do come in all shapes and sizes. They don’t frequently grow to more than about 1/2-inch in diameter, though, and they commonly grow in small clusters. Squeezing them is usually painful.
These infections are generally harmless, mostly a nuisance and a cosmetic concern. But they can be quite painful, particularly when they’re on a weight-bearing part of the foot, and they are susceptible to irritation from shoes and walking. Calluses may also form over verrucas, adding to the discomfort.
Treating Plantar Warts
Verrucas don’t require treatment, and many go away on their own over time (6 months in children to 2 years in adults, on average). But intervention is advisable if you’re experiencing pain. There are countless home remedies and folk treatments for warts, but they aren’t supported by scientific evidence.
Over-the-counter and prescription topical applications are available to treat warts, and they have varying success; your best bet is to try one containing salicylic acid as an active ingredient. These need to be applied daily, and make sure you follow the package directions.
If you can’t successfully treat painful plantar warts, see your doctor, podiatrist, or dermatologist. Depending on the severity and personal health factors, they have a variety of potential treatments at their disposal. These may include repeated filing of the warts, freezing them off with cryotherapy, surgical excision, or laser removal.
Cover plantar warts with a waterproof plaster or verruca sock when you go swimming if you have an infection. This is important to avoid passing HPV to others.
Tips for Preventing Verrucas
- Be proactive about skincare for your feet to prevent dry, cracked skin that’s vulnerable to infections like HPV
- Don’t go barefoot! Wear water shoes or flip-flops around the pool deck, in the locker room, in public showers, and in saunas
- Only use clean towels
- Make sure your feet are totally dry before putting on socks and/or shoes
- A light dusting of talcum powder helps dry your feet to prevent infections
- Never borrow someone else’s socks or shoes
- If a friend or swim teammate asks you to check out a growth on the bottom of their foot, resist the urge to touch it; if you do, wash your hands immediately
- Don’t scratch, pick at, or otherwise touch your own warts if you have one or more, as you can easily spread them; if you do, again, wash your hands right away