How Does Athlete's Foot Spread?

Jun 07, 2023
How Does Athlete's Foot Spread?
Athlete’s foot is a common fungal infection affecting people of all ages. That’s because it’s so contagious. Here’s how the infection spreads and what you can do to reduce your risks of catching it.

Athlete’s foot is a common problem for people of all ages, affecting as much as 25% of the population at any time. Nearly three-quarters of the world’s population gets infected with athlete’s foot at some point.

Despite its nickname, athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) can affect anyone, regardless of their level of physical activity. In part, that’s because athlete’s foot is highly contagious, and learning how it spreads is important for preventing infection in the future.

With offices in Waterbury and Newtown, Connecticut, Joel S Segalman, FACFAS, FACFAO, and Stephen Lazaroff, DPM, FACFAS, offer advanced treatments for athlete’s foot in patients at Performance Foot & Ankle Specialists, LLC. Their treatments include helping patients understand how infections happen and what they can do to reduce their risks of developing a fungal infection in the future.

Quick facts about athlete’s foot

Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection that most often affects the soles of the feet and the area between your toes. The infection happens when fungi enter your skin through a tiny cut or abrasion or when your skin is very moist.

These fungi thrive in the warm moist environment inside your shoes and socks, allowing the infection to spread from one person to another and even to other body parts. The same fungi that cause athlete’s foot can also cause tinea cruris (more commonly known as jock itch). This fungus typically spreads when you use the same towel to dry areas other than your feet.

Once the fungi are in your skin, they multiply, reducing acids and enzymes that irritate and interfere with how your skin grows and sheds. These effects cause the common symptoms of athlete’s foot, like:

  • Peeling skin
  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Cracked skin
  • Painful blisters

Prompt medical treatment helps relieve these symptoms, avoid complications, and prevent the infection from spreading.

Reducing your risk of infection

Knowing how athlete’s foot spreads can help you take steps to avoid infection. These fungi are very hardy and can spread through direct contact from a person with a fungal infection or through contact with a surface they’ve touched and infected.

Since these fungi prefer moist, warm areas, they’re often in public locker rooms, showers, and pools. Wearing flip-flops or shower shoes in these areas can dramatically decrease your risk of picking up the fungus.

You should also change your socks frequently, especially if they become sweaty or damp. Be sure to thoroughly dry them between each wear if your shoes make your feet sweat, and consider swapping your shoes for ones made of more breathable materials.

You can also lower your risk of infection by washing your feet daily or more often if your feet sweat a lot. Be sure to dry your feet thoroughly after bathing or swimming, including the areas between your toes.

Finally, you can catch athlete’s foot if you wear the shoes or socks of someone with an infection, or use the same towel they’ve used. The best way to avoid these infection risks is to wear your own shoes and socks and use only clean towels.

Treating athlete’s foot

Over-the-counter products may work for some people with mild infections, but most require prescription medicines to eradicate the fungus and prevent it from recurring. Prescription medicines also quickly relieve itching and other symptoms and preserve skin health.

Our team will also provide you with some helpful tips based on your risk factors to help you avoid infections in the future. To learn more about athlete’s foot treatments, request an appointment online or over the phone with the Performance Foot & Ankle Specialists team today.