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Myths & Facts About Athlete’s Foot

Feet aren't the prettiest, or the sweetest-smelling parts of the human anatomy. Suffocated inside shoes and socks all day, feet become sweaty, stinky, and the perfect vehicles for all sorts of tiny germs. Some of those germs lie in wait on the floors of locker rooms and pool changing areas. When they invade susceptible feet, they can cause a red, itchy condition called athlete's foot.

If you think athlete's foot is only for athletes, or that it just afflicts men, read on to learn why these and other ideas about athlete's foot are just myths.

Myth 1: Only athletes can get athlete's foot

You could argue that athlete's foot is one small payback for pro athletes' seven-figure salaries and luxury lifestyles. Only, you don't need to be a professional athlete -- or even an athlete at all -- to get this foot infection. Athlete's foot got its name because the fungus that causes it likes to hang out in places athletes frequent, like showers and locker rooms. Yet anyone who's exposed to that fungus can get infected -- including women.

Myth 2: Athlete's foot isn't the same as jock itch

Actually, athlete's foot and jock itch are caused by the same fungus (called tinea), which leaves scaly patches on the skin. The conditions are named by the part of the body where they occur. On the feet, tinea infection is called athlete's foot. In the groin area, it's called jock itch.

Myth 3: Showering regularly can prevent athlete's foot

Showering is actually one of the ways you can get athlete's foot. Step into a locker room or pool shower with bare feet and you can pick up the condition. Showering alone won't clear up the fungus that causes athlete's foot -- no matter how carefully you wash between your toes. But keeping your feet clean and dry can help prevent this fungus from returning.

Myth 4: Only people with poor hygiene get athlete's foot

Athlete's foot has nothing to do with cleanliness. Even if you wash your feet with soap and water several times a day, you can get athlete's foot -- especially if you don't dry your feet completely after each washing.

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Myth 5: You can only get athlete's foot by walking barefoot in areas where the fungus lives

Walking barefoot in a locker room or public shower is one way to get athlete's foot, but it's not the only way. You can also become infected if you share a towel, socks, or shoes with someone who has athlete's foot.

Myth 6: If you don't have peeling skin between your toes, it's not athlete's foot

Athlete's foot can look different in each person. Some people do get peeling or cracking skin between their toes. Others have redness or dryness on the bottom of their feet that looks just like dry skin. If you're not sure what's going on with your feet, see a podiatrist or doctor.

Myth 7: Athlete's foot only affects the feet

Athlete's foot can spread if you scratch the itch and then touch other parts of your body, including your groin (jock itch) and the skin under your arms. It can also spread to other parts of your body via contaminated sheets or clothing.

Myth 8: You can't get athlete's foot if your feet are covered in shoes and socks all day

The fungus that causes athlete's foot thrives in dark, damp places. Wet shoes and socks are the perfect habitat for these little critters. Your feet are safe inside shoes or socks -- as long as you keep them dry. Otherwise, let those toes out in the air.

Myth 9: Athlete's foot will clear up on its own

Without treatment, athlete's foot will make your feet even itchier and more miserable. It can also turn into a more serious infection if you don't take care of it. Antifungal creams and pills are the best treatments for athlete's foot.

Myth 10: You can stop using medicine as soon as your symptoms clear up

To prevent athlete's foot from returning, keep using the medicine for the length of time your doctor recommended.

Myth 11: Once you treat athlete's foot, it's gone for good

If only that were true. Even after it's been treated, athlete's foot can reappear if you don't take steps to prevent it.

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Myth 12: To prevent athlete's foot, wear socks made of a synthetic material -- like nylon

The opposite is true. Natural fibers like cotton or wool are better choices than synthetic fibers, because they soak moisture away from your feet. The fungi that cause athlete's foot love to live in damp places.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on April 28, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

"Managing Your Athlete's Foot." Ferri's Netter Patient Advisor, 2012.

Nemours Foundation: "Athlete's Foot."

American Podiatric Medical Association: "Athlete's Foot."

Mark G. Lebwohl. Treatment of Skin Disease: Comprehensive Therapeutic Strategies, 3rd ed. Saunders Elsevier, 2009.

News release. American Academy of Dermatology. Feb. 4, 2011.

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