How The Non-Athlete Prevents Athlete's Foot
Virtually every guy who has spent considerable time in locker rooms has dealt with athlete’s foot. The stuff is prolific. But, if you’ve never been much of a team sports guy, you might never have contracted the itchy condition. That’s great, but avoiding athletics isn’t a sufficient defense to ensure your streak continues. Everyone is at some risk for fungal infections, and you need to be armed with knowledge if you want to avoid problems altogether. Not to worry, this guide is specifically for you. You’re going to learn how to beat athlete’s foot before it has a chance to cause you discomfort.
It’s Not Just for Athletes
The name is a moniker, not a rule. It got the nickname because communal locker spaces are one of the leading locations for contracting the fungal infection. The truth is that the fungus that causes athlete’s foot can also cause jock itch and a number of other itchy conditions. More importantly, it isn’t some aristocratic fungus that limits itself to country clubs. Simply interacting with the rest of human society is enough to expose you to this fungus at some point. Thankfully, there are some easy tips and general life advice that can keep that exposure from turning into an infection.
Keep Your Feet Dry
This is rule number one, and no, it doesn’t mean you should skip the shower. Instead, make sure you deliberately and thoroughly dry your feet after a shower. As for the rest of your life, remember that moisture is the enemy. It’s essential for the growth of most infectious fungi (not just athlete’s foot), and it makes your feet stink more anyways. So, change socks regularly. Never wear wet shoes if you can avoid it. Feel free to use powder (such as baby powder or talcum) to keep your shoes dry. In general, avoid persistently wet feet.
Keep in mind that sometimes keeping your feet dry requires you to take shoes and socks off. Breathable, sockless athletic shoes are often a better choice for a hike on a hot day. The key to success is to always think about how footwear will impact moisture throughout the day and plan accordingly. That said, when you’re dealing with the public, you want some kind of barrier between your bare feet and the cesspools and breeding grounds that are shared spaces, but we’ll go into that more in a minute. Combatting moisture alone is almost enough to always stop athlete’s foot from developing.
Maybe Wear Some Shoes or Something?
It’s pretty obvious. The fungus has to come in contact with your skin to cause an infection. For athlete’s, locker rooms and communal showers are the biggest risks. For non-athletes, public pools, shoe stores and any activity that convinces you to remove your shoes around other people are the problems. As much as possible, wearing close-toed shoes and socks in these environments will go a long way. When it isn’t possible, flip flops are better than nothing. In any case, if your feet have to be exposed in public, take a shower. And, disinfect your shoes. It would be a shame to waste all of this effort by trapping your feet in a small, dark, damp enclosure with unencumbered fungus.
At this point, a fair number of you might be considering a more extreme alternative: just avoid people. On the surface, this seems like a great way to avoid all diseases. They can’t get you if they can’t find you! All joking aside, infections like athlete’s foot can’t be truly avoided -- not in this sense. The fungus is prolific enough that at least some exposure is inevitable. Shoes help mitigate that exposure, but you need the rest of the tips in this list to deal with that inevitability. That’s just how it is.
This word still rubs a lot of guys the wrong way. It makes no sense. Cleaning your skin requires you to remove any buildup of dead cells. It’s pretty simple stuff. Exfoliating is the practice of tackling skin removal without excessive force. You might be tempted to channel your inner drill sergeant and scrub your feet with a vengeance. That’s counterproductive as it can create small (often micro) legions that produce a foothold for infections. A gentle but thorough exfoliation accomplishes cleanliness without causing damage. It will also make your feet smell less and feel better in general. Athlete’s foot or not, you should be exfoliating. Just don’t forget the soap.
Wear Better Socks
This is a source of frustration. The vast majority of socks in the world are cotton. Not to pick on cotton or anything, but it’s terrible when it comes to moisture (wool isn’t much better). Natural fibers tend to pin moisture against the skin instead of wicking it away. This means that even minimal sweat will accumulate and lead to chronic wetness. As you might have noticed, this is bad for combatting athlete’s foot. One of the best things you can ever do is upgrade to synthetic socks. The thing you care most about is moisture wicking. You don’t necessarily need to replace all of your socks, but if you’re going to be in them all day, wicking fibers are definitely better. This is triply true for work socks.
The bonus is that keeping your feet dryer will keep the skin healthier. It’ll also reduce any potential smelliness. So, you’re welcome on those accounts too.
When was the last time you washed your sheets? Be honest. How about your towels? It’s easy to be reminded to wash socks and underwear because they stink. The rest of your clothes will be in proximity, so they probably get an occasional wash cycle too. Sheets and towels get left too long by most guys. Maybe you’re one of the select few who doesn’t regularly stew in his own filth. Good for you. Everyone else needs to get serious about washing linens. Even if you prevented an infection the first time around, fungi can thrive in linens for a disturbingly long time.
In fact, this is enough of a problem that the American Academy of Dermatologists has a specific warning about not sharing linens with someone who has athlete’s foot. That seems pretty obvious, but it brings up an important point. If you want to avoid athlete’s foot, it helps to be aware when people in your life are infected -- especially if you live with them. After all, knowing is half the battle, or something like that.
Get Some New Shoes
Slow down there. This is not a recommendation to throw away shoes that might have come in contact with athlete’s foot. The truth is that every shoe you’ve ever worn has come in contact, and throwing them away would get expensive fast. Besides, antifungal powders aren’t terribly pricey.
The real point here is that it helps to have a shoe rotation. No, you don’t need a pair for every day of the week. If that’s your thing, feel free. As for athlete’s foot, two pairs is usually sufficient. The idea is to avoid wearing wet or damp shoes. (You aren’t going crazy, you’ve read that a few times now. It’s that important.) A backup pair of shoes empowers you to actually put this into practice. It will also reduce wear on either pair and make them both last longer. You’re welcome yet again.
That summarizes what you need to know about athlete’s foot. If you’re late to the game and already have it, these practices will help keep it at bay and avoid a second round. That said, you need to treat that stuff. Athlete’s foot isn’t the worst thing in the world, but left untreated, it can mutate into something sinister. In the meantime, these tips can help you subtly improve quality of life for your feet in general. Not having athlete’s foot is great, but having happy feet is even better. Keep that in mind if any of this feels like too much of a chore.
If you’re still not satisfied, there are plenty of other resources to help you handle athlete’s foot and other conditions. Feel free to have an actual conversation with a dermatologist. They’re kind of experts in this stuff. You can also find a plethora of information from free resources like the CDC, Mayo Clinic and, if you’re feeling particularly brave, WebMD. Just don't say we didn't warn you when if you decide to ignore this advice on how the non-athlete can prevent athlete's foot.