How Likely Am I to Catch Athlete's Foot, Really?
As a fitness editor, I run around New York as part of my job testing out new classes and working out with trainers from all over the country. Recently, I realized that I've been showering way more at the studios than I have at my own apartment, which made me pause. I've heard about the risks of foot fungus, especially athlete's foot, since I was a child, but I've never taken the whole “must wear shower shoes” thing very seriously. However, after having another editor stop dead in her tracks when I told her I don’t normally wear them, I felt like I should reconsider.
We've all heard about the risks when you walk into a public shower or locker room sans shoes-specifically, athlete's foot-and how no one is immune to them.
“Skin exposure to public surfaces, where other people directly contact, puts a person at a risk for contracting bacterial, viral, or fungal infections, " Dr. Alisha Plotner, dermatologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells SELF.
Although I'm specifically concerned about the risk of catching athlete's foot, it is possible to catch a virus (the cause behind plantar warts) or pick up bacteria, like Staphylococcus or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (you've probably heard them more commonly referred to as Staph and MRSA).
But what are the real chances of me actually getting one of those from my bare feet?
The studios seem to be constantly cleaned and depending on the studio, I'm sometimes in the most of people not wearing sandals in the shower.
The gym, locker room, and most fitness studios are the places I'm most concerned about with that's where most people are either bare foot or stripping down to their socks or shower shoes. Fungi that grows on the skin, like trichophyton and microsporum, can all be transmitted through cracks in your skin, meaning you are at risk as soon as your shoes come off, Dr. Philip M. Tierno, Jr., professor of microbiology and pathology at NYU, tells SELF.
I am reassured that it's not an automatic serious infection if you shower without shoes.
You're at a much lower risk for picking up a bacteria or virus in the shower than you are a fungi, Tierno says.
There are a few things in the fungi need in order to infect you. "Maceration [the breakdown of skin] and moisture are the ingredients that allow fungi to prosper." When I think about maceration, I think about how my feet look after the hours spent lounging in the pool. That water-logged look is not cute. Another thing that I have to worry about? "If you tend to sweat more, that sets up the stage for fungal growth." Tierno.
As with most things in life, some people are just biologically more susceptible to catching fungal infections, depending on their immune systems.
In general, you want to avoid damp and dark places (like the inside of your sweaty socks). So remember to pack a fresh pair to wear post-showering. And look for some that are sweat wicking when you’re in the market for new ones. They’ll help keep your feet dry and evaporate moisture faster, so your feet aren’t in a constant state of dampness.
Socks aren't a true viable alternative.
If you forgot your shower shoes and really need to shower, the idea might pop in your head (as it did mine), that you can just wear socks to put a barrier between your feet and the tiles. That’s clever, but slightly misguided. The water will still penetrate through your socks to your feet, so fungus can still get through via the water. You’re reducing your risk and it’s better than bare feet, says Dr. Tierno, but then “you have to worry about what the socks pick up and how to effectively sanitize that."
It comes as a surprise to me that most of the symptoms are easy to recognize.
A few other warning signs of potential foot fungus, like athlete’s foot, include “itching, scaling, redness, moisture between toes, and yellow discoloration to the nails,” Dr. Emily Splichal, podiatrist, tells SELF. “Oftentimes patients just think their skin is dry, but it is actually a fungal infection.” Also keep an eye out for blisters and problem spots between your toes.
The fungi you can catch at the gym. fungus is limited to hair, nails, or skin, depending on the species of fungus. nails, "Dr. Tierno says," Infected nails "get thicker or start flaking, as well as a serious change to a yellow color.
If you happen to contract a sk in infection from foot fungus, first try over-the-counter for at least two weeks.
If after that time you see no improvement, visit a doctor, says Dr. Plotner. Check in with a doctor sooner than if you have a fever, swelling, or itching. Once you see a doctor, they will likely prescribe topical creams to be administered twice a day.
If your infection spreads to the nails, it can be treated with special prescription nail preparations, but oral medication is generally more effective , "Dr. Plotner says. Unfortunately, it's not something that goes away easily. Even with daily treatment, it will clear up in about two to six months. Splichal says.
Preventative measures are super easy to fit into your daily routine.
Besides not forgetting your shower shoes, you should always clean and dry your feet immediately after showering. Infections are likely to be seen in the toes, so make sure to hit all those tiny spots as well before putting on socks or shoes. If you can put on your shoes as soon as you get out of the shower, that's better than walking around the locker room with bare feet. The risk of infection still exists outside of the shower.
Apply lotion, cream, or oils daily. "People who use creams and lotions on their feet to maintain the integrity and [prevent] drying or cracking of feet are protected to a degree," Dr. Tierno says. The more moisturized your feet are, the less likely you are to cracks in the skin, which is how the fungi causes inflammation. Dr. Splichal recommends tea tree oil to her patients as well as to other patients, since it's super moisturizing and has a strong smell to it. "If foot odor is an issue, which can sometimes be with foot fungus, it helps to address this as well." Splichal says.
If you're someone who has fungal problems, which is what you're trying to avoid . A simple and easy fix at home is to "sanitize shower bases with a potential disinfectant like bleach. It kills spores of fungi, "Tierno says. Try a diluted bleach solution to kill off any potential threats. If you practice good sanitary and hygienic techniques, you can reduce the risk of any living fungal organisms. There is always the risk of fungal infections; however, if you maintain proper foot hygiene, the risks are actually very low, "Dr. Splichal says. I breathe a sigh of relief, but still vow to make my slides a permanent fixture in my
Overall, you shouldn’t be too concerned.
“There is always the risk of fungal infections; however, if you maintain proper foot hygiene, the risks are actually very low,” Dr. Splichal says. I breathe a sigh of relief, but still vow to make my slides a permanent fixture in my gym bag.
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