Help, I Have Athlete’s Foot! Now What?

Sure, fungi can be cool and sometimes magical, but they don't belong on your feet! (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Sure, fungi can be cool and sometimes magical, but they don’t belong on your feet! (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Q: Why did the mushroom get invited to all the parties?

A: ‘Cuz he’s a FUNgi!

I have athlete’s foot. There, I came out and said it. I have to own the fact that I have now joined the legions of high school football players and wrestlers afflicted with the fungus. I definitely didn’t invite it, and it’s definitely not fun!

For 30 Rock fans, it’s like scene when Jack Donaghy makes a public declaration on the subway that he had bed bugs. My initial reaction to my foot fungus diagnosis was that same mix of embarrassment, shame, and then ultimately resignation. As embarrassing as it is, why did I act like it’s the end of the world? I mean, I’m an athlete, and I have feet. I suppose it was inevitable between sweating through three-hour long runs and showering at the gym even when I forget my flip-flops. It was only a matter of time.

Once I got over myself and realized I needed to combat this fungal invasion, treating mild athlete’s foot is a relatively simple process. Read on to find out what to do if your feet get all athletey.

I recently took a solo trip to Europe built around a running event where we ran through a desert and then in a river. Not just through a river; in a river. When not running, I walked around, sock-less, in 5-year-old Danskos. My feet were in more than a few funk-inducing situations. And maybe I had picked up the athlete’s foot before my trip, but it really started to bother me in the last month. I thought it was just a product of my Danskos strap rubbing on my ankle making me itch. And the dry skin was obviously, or so I thought, a result of extreme dehydration.

After my big trip, I visited my parents. My dad has had a lot of trouble with cracked heels, so I asked my mom what he uses to repair and soothe dry skin. Dr. Mom* took a look at the problematic areas (between my toes and the sole of my foot) and proclaimed my diagnosis, “Honey, that’s not dry skin; that’s athlete’s foot.”

My confidence as an adult, definitely not a high school boy, healthy, and meticulous individual took a hit. Did this mean I don’t take care of myself well enough? Am I really the foot fungus type? Dr. Mom continued, “It’s probably from being in wet socks too long.” I guess I don’t always shower right away after a run, my shoes are kinda old, and then there was just that river thing…

To understand what I was up against, I did a little bit of online research. What exactly is athlete’s foot?

English: Athlete's foot Deutsch: Fusspilz
Typical cracked skin around the toes from athlete’s foot (Photo credit: Wikipedia via Zemanta)

Athlete’s foot a fungal infection known technically as tinea pedis. Tinea = fungus, pedis = foot. It’s the same as ringworm. (Gross.) It also is the same fungus that causes jock itch. (Double gross. The embarrassment came back as I scrolled down.) It’s characterized by cracked and itchy skin typically between the toes. However, there’s another kind that the Mayo Clinic refers to as Moccasin athlete’s foot that is a white, scummy film that goes around the bottom ledge and sole of the foot. It didn’t totally explain the patch by my ankle, but the itchy symptoms were the same. I guess I had it all.

Luckily, athlete’s foot is easily treated with some over the counter antifungal remedies. I started by taking my shoes out into the sunshine, removing the soles, and letting them both dry completely out and bake of any residual nasties. I used Tinactin spray on all of the shoes I had worn in the past few days. I bought Tinactin cream to get in all the nooks and crannies of my itchy foot. I was prepared to do battle on all fronts.

Almost immediately after using the cream, the itchy-ness stopped. I continued to follow the package instructions of twice daily applications for about 7 days. The cracked skin of my ankle and toes looked like it was healing and growing new, non-fungus skin. But something weird was happening with the ring around my sole. It was looking even whiter and ashier. Either the cream was drying out to a white-ish film or it was drying out the gross skin even more. Whatever it was, it was flaking off on my yoga mat. (Still gross!)

I avoided moisturizing my ailing peds because my dermatologist once told me that bodily fungus feeds on oils, so I figured I wouldn’t fuel the fire.

I think the dried skin was just the dead fungus-y part. After showering, when my skin was soft, I could rub the gross stuff off. It’s been about a week since I’m over the worst of it. I’ve not exfoliated a little more, and my feet seem to be back to a healthy pink skin tone.

Athlete’s foot is contagious, and it often recurs. It is easily spread by anything wet: tubs, floors, towels, sweaty socks or shoes. That’s the tricky thing – it just happens as a result of wet or humid conditions. Tinea pedis can also spread to your hands if you excessively scratch or pick at your feet. It might require medical attention if it doesn’t go away after a few weeks of self-treatment or if there is swelling or draining.

In order to be a responsible athlete to care for myself and those I live with, I’m taking a few precautions to prevent future outbreaks. I need to regularly scrub my tub and shower with Comet or another cleaner with bleach. I’ll wear flip-flops in my home. I’ll more frequently launder my sheets and towels. I’ve also resolved to wear those little low-cut socks that are practically invisible, even in flats, to help absorb my foot sweat and provide a barrier in my casual shoes. As far as my running shoes go, I’ll make sure to let them dry out, preferably in the sun, after each run, and I’ll regularly spray the insides with more Tinactin.

Finally, I’ve also resolved not to be embarrassed by my feet’s fungal freeloaders. To be embarrassed would be to deny that I’m a badass runner who slogs through deserts and rivers on other continents, who has run 6 marathons, and who has an extremely active lifestyle. So I have athlete’s foot. I can also easily take care of it so I can get back to running. Besides, I might be a mom, coach, or teacher to a high school boy one day who will need my expertise.

*Disclaimer: My mom is not a real doctor, but moms are just generally good at recognizing what ails their children.

Have you ever been plagued by athlete’s foot?

A Minnesota girl living in New York City. I'm a middle school teacher (by choice!), runner, bike commuter, traveler, and general do-er of things. My next goal is to change my finally crush my marathon PR of 4:01 to under 4:00.

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11 comments

  1. Entertaining and informative! My father was a college coach (basketball and tennis) and athlete’s foot was the bane of his existence. Even we kids got it occasionally. Fortunately I haven’t as an adult but now I have the remedy if I do! Thanks.

  2. Thanks, Sage! I grew up playing tennis and running, my brother played football, and my parents have always been active, moderately sporty folks, so I was mostly surprised by how this hasn’t been an issue for me until now. We’ll see how it goes from here!

  3. I’ve had a bout with athletes foot once before; the moccasin type also. Running in wet running shoes on rainy days maybe to blame. Also, wearing those minimalist running shoes without socks didn’t help. You had mentioned that you had been wearing an old pair of clogs. I wear clogs too. I also started wearing the really low no-show socks in most of my shoes like flats.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. The moccasin athlete’s foot seems to definitely be the pesky type. And I just read that just one foot has 250,000 sweat glands and can ooze up to two cups of sweat a day! (If that’s true, then gross!) I think my days of going sock-less are over.

  4. My dermatologist had mentioned something around the some statistics also, in regards of sweat output of the feet. The moccasin athletes foot did take along time to go away. It came on fairly quickly. I’ve also are trying different pairs of low cut athletic socks for my running activities. Sometimes I do slip up and just throw on my running shoes, after wearing sandals. I do agree now it feels gross.

  5. I just wanted to follow up on my sock choice. For running, I am wearing the Inijini low cut toe socks. They tend to move the moisture away from the toes. My dermatologist gave my feet a “clean bill of health”, except I messed up and did not wear socks that day. I was wearing a pair of Dansko clogs. Even wearing backless footwear styles calls for a half sock that covers the toes.

  6. I just wanted to follow up on my sock choice. For running, I am wearing the Inijini low cut toe socks. They tend to move the moisture away from the toes. My dermatologist gave my feet a “clean bill of health”, except I messed up and did not wear socks that day. I was wearing a pair of clogs. Even wearing backless footwear styles calls for a half sock that covers the toes.

  7. I just wanted to follow up on my sock choice. For running, I am wearing the Inijini low cut toe socks. They tend to move the moisture away from the toes. My doctor gave my feet a “clean bill of health”, except I messed up and did not wear socks that day. I was wearing a pair of Dansko clogs. Even wearing backless footwear styles calls for a half sock that covers the toes.

  8. Sorry for the extra posts. The system was responding back that I had written something a ready and I thought it would not be posting it anyway. It was hung up on the word dermatologist. Odd.

  9. Thanks for the tip about your socks. This makes me wonder about runners who use the Vibram Five Fingers shoes. I’d be curious to see what their experiences are. And weird about your multiple posts… We should look into that!

  10. I have seen and know one person that wears “VFF’s”. She mainly wore them for outside yoga sessions. They have come out with different styles over the years. She wears the original style plus one with the laces. I have never worn them myself. She she likes them for short runs and treadmill running; but mainly for yoga.

    Going back on topic, I do remember she always made it a point to take the VFF’s off as soon as her workout was over and slip into flip-flops.