So, you’ve been taking advantage of that fitness center membership you got at the first of year. You’ve been losing weight and toning your body. You’ve even used the Jacuzzi to relax your aching muscles. But lately, you’ve noticed that your feet have been itching and burning – especially between the toes. What you may not realize is while you’ve been taking advantage of the fitness facilities to improve your health, the fungus lurking in the locker room has been attacking your feet. And you now have athlete’s foot.

What is athlete’s foot?

Athlete’s foot is a skin disease caused by a fungal infection that usually develops in between your toes. It’s closely related to other fungal infections, such as ringworm and jock itch.

What causes it?

The fungi (called dermatophytes) are microscopic organisms that normally live on your skin. They usually don’t grow out of control as long as your skin is clean and dry. However, the fungi (which are similar to mold) love warm, humid environments, like swimming pools, hot tubs, locker rooms and showers where they can flourish. Since these fungi like to hang out in areas that are commonly used by athletes, that’s how the infection got its name. However, athlete’s foot also can thrive in damp shoes and socks.

Athlete’s foot is contagious. You can catch it from contact with infected people and contaminated towels, floors and shoes.

What are the symptoms?

The signs and symptoms of athlete’s foot include:

  • Itching, burning and/or stinging between your toes and/or on the soles of your feet
  • Inflammation
  • Dry skin on the bottoms or sides of your feet
  • Itchy blisters that cause pain and swelling when they break
  • Scaling (cracking and peeling skin) between your toes and on the soles of your feet
  • Thick, crumbly, ragged, discolored toenails that may be pulling away from the nail bed

If you scratch the infection and touch your skin elsewhere, you can spread it to other parts of your body, such as the underarms and the groin. Also you can spread the infection to other parts of your body through contaminated clothing or bed sheets.

When should I see my doctor?

You should visit your doctor if the rash doesn’t get better after a couple weeks of proper foot care and treatment with over-the-counter (OTC) medications. See your doctor sooner if you have a fever, excessive redness, swelling or drainage. Also, visit your doctor if you have diabetes and suspect you have athlete’s foot.

How is athlete’s foot treated?

For mild cases, your doctor may want you to use an OTC antifungal ointment, lotion, powder or spray, such as Lotrimin Ultra, Lotrimin AF, Desenex, Lamisil AT, and Tinactin.

If your athlete’s foot doesn’t respond to OTC medications, your doctor may prescribe a topical (clotrimazole and miconazole) or oral medication (Lamisil, Diflucan or Sporanox). If your infection is caused by bacteria, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic, like penicillin, too.

How do I keep from getting athlete’s foot?

The best way to prevent infection is to practice good foot hygiene:

  • Wash your feet daily with soap and water; dry them thoroughly, especially between the toes.
  • Reduce perspiration by applying foot powder to your feet and sprinkling it in your shoes and socks.
  • Change your socks or hose regularly.
  • Wear moisture-wicking socksthat pull moisture away from your feet.
  • Wear light, well-ventilated shoes. Avoid shoes made of synthetic material, such as vinyl or rubber.
  • Don’t wear the same pair of shoes every day. Allow them to dry out between wearings.
  • Avoid walking barefoot around pools, showers or locker rooms.

By following these tips, hopefully, you’ll reduce your risk of contacting athlete’s foot.

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Note: If you follow these guidelines and your athlete’s foot persists, you may have a more serious condition. See your physician for a more complete diagnosis and treatment.