Preventing Foot Fungus

It can itch, burn, sting, peel, crack, and blister. Foot fungus is gross. But it's everywhere -- even in the gym on the Space Station. Read on to learn about what it is and how to prevent it.

What Is Foot Fungus?

It’s a skin infection caused by mold-like germs that live in dead cells on your skin, hair, and nails. There are more than 80 types of fungi on your feet. That's way more than on other parts of the body, even the palms of your hands. But while some of these fungi may get a bad rap, you can relax. Most aren’t harmful.

Athlete’s foot is the most common type of foot fungus. Up to 25% of people will get this itchy, even painful infection at some point. It usually grows between the toes but can spread to the soles and toenails. If you scratch your foot and then touch other parts of your body, like your armpits or groin, it can spread there, too.

Where Do Fungi Thrive?

In dark, warm, moist places, like your shoes. That’s why they like your feet. Each foot has over 250,000 sweat glands. To stop the spread of foot fungus, dry your feet after they get wet. Let your shoes air out before you wear them again.

How Do They Spread?

Fungi enter your body through tiny cracks in your skin. You can catch them by touching someone who has them. You can also catch fungi if your bare feet come in contact with them. This might happen when you walk barefoot in warm, moist areas, like a locker room or public pool.

How Contagious Is It?

Not as much as you might think. Foot fungus loves wet places, but you might have a better chance of catching it if you don’t wash or dry your feet well, or don't change your socks and shoes often.

Can I Catch It From Someone in My House?

Yes. Foot fungus can linger on sheets, towels, or common objects. Don’t share towels, and keep surfaces clean. Wash your feet with soap and water at least once each day and keep them dry.

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Where Can I Walk Barefoot?

Nowhere. You can re-infect yourself by walking barefoot at home -- even in your own shower and on your own carpets. Always wear shoes in public places. You never know what germs or fungi lurk there. If you’re using a public pool or shower, wear sandals or shower shoes.

What About Pedicures? Are They Safe?

Yes, but be careful. Never assume the spa cleans its tools after each client. Take your own to your appointment. That’s the only way to make sure you don’t catch -- or spread -- a pesky foot fungus in the nail salon.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on January 22, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

The Nemours Foundation: “Skin Infections & Rashes.”

CDC: “Fungal Diseases.”

Crawford, F. BMJ Clinical Evidence, 2009.

American Podiatric Medical Association: “Athlete’s Foot.”

American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons: “Athlete’s Foot.”

U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Athlete’s Foot: Overview.”

The American College of Foot & Ankle Orthopedics & Medicine: “Athlete’s Foot.”

Harvard Health Publications: “Athlete’s Foot: Causes, Prevention, and Treatment.”

American Podiatric Medical Association: “Pedicure Pointers.”

The College of Podiatry: “Sweaty Feet.”

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