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How to get rid of athlete’s foot for good

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This fungal infection is highly contagious. But there are plenty of ways to curb the itch. An expert explains how, and what you can do to prevent it in the first place.
Written by Karen Asp
Updated on December 10, 2021

Anyone who’s forgotten their shower shoes and tiptoed barefoot across a gym locker room has one thing in mind: “Please don’t let me get athlete’s foot!”

Unfortunately, this fungal infection isn’t selective to gymgoers. It’s common, and anyone can catch it. (If you’re taking medication for athlete’s foot or another condition, we can help you save up to 80%. Download our free discount card today.)

That’s why we tapped Patrick McEneaney, DPM, to discuss how to handle the itch. He’s a board-certified podiatrist and owner and CEO of Northern Illinois Foot & Ankle Specialists in Crystal Lake, Illinois.

What is athlete’s foot?

Dr. McEneaney: It’s a fungal infection on the skin of your feet. It can affect 1 foot or both. Usual symptoms include itching, burning and cracked or scaly skin. You may also notice inflamed skin, such as a rash, or blisters.

Symptoms are especially noticeable on the bottoms of the feet, in between the toes and on the toenails. In fact, when people have fungal toenails, it’s often the same type of fungus that causes athlete’s foot.

The type of fungus that causes athlete’s foot is common. Like most fungi, it thrives in warm and moist areas. Damp areas such as showers, locker rooms and pool areas provide the perfect place for fungus to grow.

How do you get athlete’s foot?

Dr. McEneaney: In order for the fungus to take up residence on your feet, you have to be exposed to it. The worst part: It’s easily passed from 1 person to another.

That means you could catch it walking barefoot in the same area that a person with an infection has stepped. Or you could pick it up by using the same towel, shoes or socks as someone with the condition. In fact, the most common areas to pick this up are health club showers, gyms, pools, locker areas and hotel rooms.

The fungus is also more likely to stick around if you create an ideal home for it. Feet that are consistently hot and sweaty, or that have cracked skin, can be more vulnerable.

How do I treat athlete’s foot?

Dr. McEneaney: Most of the time, over-the-counter [OTC] antifungal creams can clear up an infection. The brands Lotrimin® and Lamisil® make common athlete’s foot creams. In general, these medicines either kill fungal cells or prevent fungal cells from growing.

You first want to make sure what you’re dealing with is actually athlete’s foot. That’s especially true if you have redness on your foot, particularly the top of your foot. It may be a sign of a bacterial skin infection. Either way, your health care team can help confirm your suspicions — and help you treat it. Usually, you’re directed to use these OTC antifungal creams twice a day for a couple of weeks.

If you’ve been using a topical cream for a month and you’re not getting better, it may be time to up the ante. Your doctor may recommend trying a prescription medication to help clear the infection. Some of the most popular options are Lotrisone® (clotrimazole) and Loprox Cream® (ciclopirox cream).

[Applying clotrimazole? Here’s what you need to know before you start.]

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What can I do to prevent athlete’s foot?

Dr. McEneaney: This fungus cannot be seen. So the best way to prevent it is to limit your risk of exposure.

Some of the strategies that can reduce your chances of catching athlete’s foot include:

Limit barefoot walking, especially in public areas

Wear shower shoes, sandals or flip-flops any time you’re around pools, showers or locker areas, or hotel rooms. You may even want to consider it if you’re visiting relatives or friends, especially if you have an active infection.

Keep your feet dry

When you do, it’ll be like hanging a “You’re not welcome here” sign for fungi.

Aim to change your socks at least once a day. And alternate shoes, if you can, to help them dry before putting them back on. If it’s hot outside, opt for breathable footwear if you can. Sandals or flip-flops may be good options. Just avoid shoes made from plastic or rubber that can make your feet sweat.

Wash your feet daily (and dry them completely after)

This may seem obvious. But in our ever-busy lives, it’s easy to throw your shoes and socks on and run out the door, missing the “dry completely” step.

Use your own shoes and towels

Sometimes sharing isn’t caring. If you borrow a towel or a pair of shoes from someone with athlete’s foot, you have a high chance of catching it yourself.

Disinfect your shower

Does someone in your house have athlete’s foot? Spray the bottom of your shower with a disinfectant to kill any lingering bacteria or fungus.

Avoid reinfecting yourself

Having athlete’s foot once doesn’t mean you’re immune. If you have an infection, make sure to disinfect or treat any areas that the fungus may be on. This includes your towels, sheets and bathroom or shower floors.

Don’t forget your shoes either, especially the ones you wear barefoot, like sandals. If you can’t wash your shoes, you can always treat them with an antifungal spray.

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