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Shoes: New Airport Health Hazard

Taking your shoes off at airport security checkpoints exposes your feet to fungus and injury.

Athlete's Foot and More continued...

"I've been flying a lot -- and my experience all summer was that individual airports are still making you take off your shoes," Stone tells WebMD. "Probably the only way you can combat the fact you are walking on a filthy floor is to keep a pair of socks on."

Stone notes that late summer is a time when lots of people have foot fungi. She suspects that athlete's foot is rampant on airport floors, but she notes that it's hard to tell where a person actually got it. To date, there haven't been any studies.

"Athlete's foot is not the only issue," Calis says. "Think of all the things that fall off people's shoes. Also, there might be small tacks or sharp pebbles that could cut you -- and if you have an opening in the skin, that is asking for infection. Even a sock won't protect your foot. If you do step on a tack, then we're talking about having to get a tetanus shot, and possible staph or pseudomonas infections."

Not everybody who walks through an airport has been walking on air.

"You never know where people's shoes have been," Calis says. "If someone who's been on a farm walks through the airport, you'll have fecal matter, too."

And not everybody who takes off their shoes should do so.

"People with diabetic feet, some have a loss of protective feeling," Calis notes. "We podiatrists tell them never to walk around barefoot. They may step on something and not know it's there. That would be a great concern of mine if I were diabetic."

What You Can Do

As the TSA says, you don't necessarily have to take off your shoes. But many of us will, so Calis offers these tips:

  • Wear socks. If they don't go with those Manolos, maybe it's best to wear a different style shoe.
  • Consider taking along a pair of those disposable slip-on booties similar to those worn in hospitals or spas.
  • If you're diabetic, avoid removing your shoes unless required to do so. If you must go shoeless, double-check the floor before walking on it.
  • Carry disposable wet wipes and a paper towel in your carry-on. Before putting your shoes back on, clean and dry your feet.
  • Antifungal or antibiotic products are probably unnecessary.

And the TSA, too, has tips:

Screeners are trained to look for suspicious footwear. Don't wear anything that looks out of the ordinary.

  • Don't wear shoes with steel tips, steel heels, steel shanks, metal buckles, or nails. Tennis shoes are usually a safe bet.
  • If you know that your shoes set off the alarm on the metal detector, wear something else while flying.
  • Shoes in your carry-on luggage might also be a problem. Pack them near the top of the bag for easy inspection.

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