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Taking Steps Against Athlete's Foot

You don't need to play a sport to get athlete's foot. But, having a game plan for preventing this pesky infection can help your feet stay healthy.

The cause

Athlete's foot is a common infection that's caused by several fungi, says the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). You can come in contact with fungi by walking barefoot almost anywhere that's warm and damp, such as the pool area or the locker room at your gym. Wearing someone else's shoes or borrowing a towel also can be risky. Fungal spores are so small that you won't know if fungi are present.

Coming in contact with the fungus doesn't mean you'll develop athlete's foot; some people are just more susceptible to the infection. Fungi need heat and moisture to thrive. People with damp or sweaty feet may be more at risk for athlete's foot. Wearing wet shoes or damp socks all day increases the risk for a fungus infection because it creates an ideal environment for the infection to take hold.

Symptoms

Athlete's foot usually develops between your toes and on the bottoms of your feet. It also can appear under your toenails. The skin becomes red, cracked and flaky, with itching and sometimes blisters that ooze and crust. The infection can spread if you scratch your infected feet and then touch other parts of your body, the APMA says.

What to do

Athlete's foot isn't serious, and it's treatable. The infection isn't likely to affect anything below the surface of your skin, and it usually clears up in a few days or weeks with treatment. An over-the-counter antifungal powder, spray or cream works for most people. Use it as directed for a minimum of two weeks, even after the infection appears to be gone. This helps prevent the infection from recurring. If you have diabetes, check with your health care provider about any type of foot ailment.

If athlete's foot doesn't clear up within two weeks, call your provider, the APMA says. Persistent infection may require topical or oral prescription medication. Persistent infection may indicate another illness, such as diabetes, HIV or another condition that affects the immune system. Other conditions can cause symptoms similar to fungal foot infections.

Prevention tips

  • Don't walk barefoot in public places, especially where it's damp. Wear shower sandals in locker rooms.

  • Dry your feet thoroughly after getting them wet, especially between the toes. If you typically have damp feet, use a blow dryer on a low setting to ensure that your feet get dry.

  • When you're at home, expose your feet to the air. Don't go barefoot, however, if you have diabetes.

  • Don't wear anyone else's shoes.

  • Buy footwear that "breathes."

  • Change socks every day, or more often if your feet tend to sweat a lot.

  • Use talcum powder in your shoes to help keep them dry.