The Nature of Athlete’s Foot: Why Does Fungus Seem More Prevalent Among Runners?

Athlete’s foot is a broad term for a type of foot fungus. Anyone — even non-athletes — can catch it from the environment, but the fungus seems to be more prevalent among long distance runners in particular. “My daughter is a keen runner and she regularly suffers from athlete’s foot. What can she do to prevent it?” wonders a parent from Glasgow, Scotland, writing in to the Evening Times. Fortunately, the makers of SteriShoe, a UV shoe sanitizer, have the answers.

athlete's foot runners

Athlete’s foot attacks runners disproportionately because their feet are trapped in warm, damp shoes for such extended periods of time.
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What Is Athlete’s Foot?

Athlete’s foot is a common infection caused by dermatophyte fungus. This pathogen thrives in the presence of dead skin, hair, and nails, but can also be found multiplying in warm, moist, dark environments. The fungi can exist harmlessly on dry, clean skin, according to Medical News Todaybut it can become a problem when the colony reproduces rapidly under damp and warm conditions, or when the microbes get inside the body through a crack, callus, ingrown nail, cut, or blister. It is best to treat the infection at the first sign of inflamed, cracked, peeling skin, as it’s harder to treat once it spreads to other parts of the body like the groin (jock itch) or the arms and chest (ringworm). You also want to avoid contracting a secondary infection like cellulitis, staph, MRSA, or toenail fungus.

athlete's foot symptoms

Athlete’s foot causing burning and itching. Rubbing sandpaper along the bottom of the foot and soaking in Domeboro solution can take relieve the irritation.
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Why Are Runners More Susceptible To Athlete’s Foot?

Athlete’s foot grows best inside running shoes. While you run, your 250,000 foot sweat glands release fluid into your shoes. Even if it doesn’t feel hot outside and your feet feel dry, rest assured they are sweating. Shoes are like little incubators for nasty microbes. Many runners simply toss their wet shoes into the closet when they get home — leaving the shoe damp enough to harbor pathogens.

How Is Athlete’s Foot Treated?

An over-the-counter cream is usually all you need to treat athlete’s foot. Symptoms should clear up within a month, but be sure to to apply it as long as directed to prevent a recurrence. Usually you will need to continue to apply the cream for a week or two after symptoms disappear. Doug Ichikawa DPM, a teaching associate at the University of Washington School of Medicine, recommends the use of foot powders like Desenex or Tinactin to treat (and prevent) athlete’s foot. Domeboro solution or a baking soda soak can relieve symptoms of athlete’s foot, such as itching, says Runner’s WorldYou can also rub fine sandpaper along the bottoms of your feet or remove dead skin with a pumice stone.

Can Runners Prevent Athlete’s Foot Fungus?

Athlete’s foot prevention begins with hygienic practices like taking special care to wash the feet and toes daily. Often, people fail to fully dry between their toes before slipping into socks — which invites fungal growth. Likely, you already change your socks daily, but if you’re a runner with things to do, consider changing your socks several times a day and rotate your running shoes every other time to give each pair adequate time to fully dry out. Choose breathable shoe materials (like leather) and socks made from sweat-wicking materials (like these). Avoid running without socks at all costs! In public showers, always wear flip-flops, sandals, or shower shoes. At home, it’s recommended that you spend time barefoot to give your feet time to breathe.

wet running shoes

Wet shoes create a favorable environment for fungal growth, so dry your footwear out after a run and use a UV shoe sanitizer to kill any microbes that may have started colonizing.
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Dry & Sanitize Your Shoes!

Dry shoes are not the optimal environment for fungal growth, so your prevention should center around footwear care. Bring your shoes in after a run and leave them near a heater vent or fan for a few hours. You can also leave them outside in the sun for a few hours. Then we recommend using the SteriShoe UV shoe sanitizer, which kills up to 99.9% of the fungus, bacteria, and other pathogens in the shoes with ultraviolet light in just 45 minutes. Clearing your shoes of this microbial buildup will leave you with fresher-smelling feet and help in the battle to prevent foot fungus.

Buy a SteriShoe UV shoe sanitizer here!

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