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Ask the Experts

Athlete's Foot: Prevention and Treatment

by Berkeley Wellness  

Q: What is the best way to prevent and treat athlete’s foot?

A: Medically called tinea pedis, this very common, stubborn, itchy fungal infection is somewhat contagious via shedding of affected skin. It’s called athlete’s foot because it’s often associated with athletes (due to the warm, moist environment of their sneakers) and transferred in gym locker rooms. But you don’t have to be an athlete to get it. Some people are more susceptible than others.

Athlete’s foot increases the risk of getting a secondary bacterial infection, and the fungus can spread to the nails or other skin areas, according to a 2015 paper in Critical Reviews in Microbiology. Athlete’s foot is found in about one-third of all people with toenail fungus.

To prevent it, keep your feet clean and dry, especially in hot weather. Always dry your feet thoroughly, especially between the toes. A hair dryer on a cool setting works well. Avoid snug, poorly ventilated shoes and damp, sweaty socks. Wear socks that “wick” away moisture (cotton won’t do this). Air your shoes between uses—don’t wear the same pair day in, day out. An antiperspirant can help keep feet dry. As a general rule, don’t share shoes, socks, or towels.

Over-the-counter antifungal products can help you get rid of athlete’s foot. Tea tree oil may reduce itching. There are also several prescription drugs, including the costly topical antifungal, Luzu (luliconazole), which was approved by the FDA to treat athlete’s foot (as well as jock itch and ringworm) in adults. The cream is used once a day until itching and other signs of infection are gone, and then for another week or two. Once you get rid of the infection, it’s important to wash or replace potentially contaminated socks, towels, and sneakers. Antifungal foot powder may help prevent recurrences.

See also The Lowdown on Toenail Fungus.