Athlete’s foot is a common fungal infection that attacks your feet. Your feet are especially susceptible since they provide the fungus with a warm, moist, dark environment in which to thrive. Of course, you don’t have to be an athlete to suffer from athlete’s foot. Anyone can be affected. And that’s why, in today’s post, our podiatrist in Houston will share prevention strategies from maintaining good foot hygiene to making smart footwear choices. You’ll learn about the risk factors and how to manage exposure to infection, putting you at a step ahead in the battle against athlete’s foot. Here’s what you need to know. 

How to Prevent an Athlete’s Foot Infection athlete's foot appearing on the bottom of the toes and ball of foot

Athlete’s foot, known as tinea pedis, is a common fungal infection that primarily affects the skin on the feet. It’s categorized by itching, scaling, redness and, at times, blisters between the toes and on the bottom of the feet. Despite the name, anyone can get this infection. The culprit is a group of fungi called dermatophytes which thrive in warm, damp environments like your shoes or socks. They especially love the moist area between your toes. This fungus is contagious and could be easily caught from walking barefoot in public places like locker rooms or public pool decks. 

Now, because this common skin infection is typically caused by fungi that thrive in warm, moist environments, if you commonly wear tight, closed-toed shoes, especially in our warm Houston weather, you’re also at a higher risk. As such, you may be able to prevent an athlete’s foot infection by wearing shoes that can breathe, made from natural materials like leather or canvas, rather than synthetic materials that can trap moisture inside. You could even choose pairs that are open to the fresh air—as long as they still provide foot support. 

You can also prevent infection by adopting some simple personal hygiene practices. First of all, keep your feet clean and dry. (Since fungus thrives in moist areas, making sure to thoroughly dry your feet after bathing or swimming can reduce your risk for infection.) You should also change socks regularly and choose pairs that wick away moisture from your feet. (Some of our favorites are the Coolmax or Drymax brands.) And let your shoes dry out between wearings, even if that means only wearing a pair every other day. You may also use an antifungal spray in your shoes to disinfect them before the next time you slip into a pair. 

Another way to prevent infection with smart shoe choices? Avoid sharing footwear or walking barefoot in public places, as both can increase vulnerability. Choose shoes that are the right size, too, since tight shoes can cause your feet to sweat more. Also, people with naturally sweaty feet and/or a weakened immune system may be at higher risk for this infection. So take extra precautions if either risk factor applies to you. 

Furthermore, having a minor skin or nail injury on your foot can leave you vulnerable to athlete’s foot by providing an entry point for the fungi. So promptly addressing any injury, even a minor one, can reduce your risk for problems. And, in total, recognizing these risks—and taking appropriate preventative measures—should help you prevent infections. However, even the most careful individual may still contract athlete’s foot. So it’s equally important to know the early signs of infection. That way, you can seek diagnosis and treatment before athlete’s foot spreads from your foot to other spots on your body. (Or to other members of your family!)  

Symptoms of Infection 

The most common symptoms include itching, burning or stinging between your toes or on the soles of your feet. You may also notice redness, blisters, or dry scaly skin. It might even cause toenails to become discolored or pull away from the nail bed. 

As soon as problems develop, start by washing your feet with soap and warm water. Be sure to clean between your toes where the fungus tends to grow, then dry your feet thoroughly once you’re done. Next, apply an over-the-counter fungal cream, which will kill the fungus and prevent it from spreading. But if your rash doesn’t respond to this process within a week; if you have diabetes or a compromised immune system; if you’re experiencing persistent itching, redness or burning between your toes; or if your skin starts to crack or blister, it’s time to see our podiatrist in Houston, TX

Diagnosing Athlete’s Foot An illustration of an athlete's foot infection between the toes

Athlete’s foot is primarily diagnosed through a physical exam, taking into account the appearance of your feet. In some cases, we may take a skin scraping, and use that sample to check under the microscope for the presence of fungus. Once we’ve confirmed the diagnosis, we can begin treating your athlete’s foot infection. 

Choosing the Right Treatment for Your Needs

When infections don’t respond to over the counter treatments, there are stronger prescription anti-fungal medications that should clear up your symptoms quickly. After we clear this infection, we may recommend consistently applying an anti-fungal cream twice a week to prevent future flare ups, especially if you’ve had several repeat infections. 

Remember, athlete’s foot is an extremely common skin problem, especially in our hot, humid Houston weather. However, this itchy, sometimes painful rash doesn’t have to ruin your summer—as long as you start treatment as soon as you notice symptoms of an athlete’s foot infection. After all, this infection is highly contagious. So, without prompt treatment, a small problem on your feet could cause issues elsewhere on your body—or for your friends or family members. But don’t worry—we’re here to help. As long as you aren't in need of diabetic foot care, and don't have an underlying condition that compromises your immune system, you can give yourself a week to clear the infection at home, using over the counter products. But if things aren’t better after that? Then it’s time to give our office a call or click here to request an immediate appointment.