5 Steps To Avoid Athlete's Foot

Patient Expert

Reader: I think I have athlete's foot because my toenails are very thick and I have a lot of dry skin. Do over-the-counter treatments work? What can I do?

One of the things I love about summer is being able to wear open-toed sandals. When the weather's hot, socks are just something to avoid. However, if you have any kind of fungal problem with your feet, it's tough to enjoy the breezy benefits of flimsy shoes.

Athlete's foot is the most common skin disease after acne. Medically known as tinea pedis, athlete's foot is a fungal affliction that primarily affects those who often wear occlusive footwear (e.g., running shoes) and are exposed to locker room environments at gyms or public swimming pools.

The infections are caused by fungal spores or yeasts that thrive in moist, warm environments such as locker room showers. They can also be transferred via wet towels and shared footwear. These spores or yeasts start by infecting the outermost layer of skin. If left untreated, they begin to affect living tissue, resulting in itching, flaking skin that can crack or blister.

Common over-the-counter treatments such as Lamisil or** Lotrimin** are effective when it comes to most cases of athlete's foot. If these treatments aren't working, speak to your doctor. It's possible that the infection will require prescription antibiotics. If your toenails are thick, brittle and yellow, it's also possible that you may have a** nail infection** that can be treated with prescription medication.

One thing to keep in mind is that whether or not you use topical treatments or prescription medication, follow the instructions carefully. If the directions tell you to use daily for one month, continue to do so even if the symptoms disappear after the first week. Cutting off treatment early may result in the fungus growing back. In addition, wash your bed linens, socks, and towels in hot water in order to kill any fungus that may remain.

Aside from treatment, however, the easiest way to deal with athlete's foot and other fungal infections is prevention. As I noted above, fungi and yeasts thrive in areas with high moisture. In order to avoid dealing with athlete's foot, follow these simple precautions:

  • When using a shared locker room or shower, always wear plastic flip-flops.

  • When exercising, wear cotton socks and change them as soon as possible after your workout. If your sneakers get wet, air them out and allow them to dry before lacing them back up.

  • Dry your feet carefully after any shower, paying attention to the areas between toes. If your feet tend to perspire throughout the day, dust your feet with talc before putting on socks.

  • If you have had an infection before, avoid sharing your towels, socks, and shoes with others.

  • Switch out any shoe inserts you use frequently and replace workout sneakers regularly.

Follow these steps and you should be able to enjoy the summer weather-and open-toed shoes-without breaking a sweat.