Fungal skin infections can be itchy and annoying, but they're rarely serious. Common infections such as athlete's foot, jock itch, and ringworm are caused by fungus and are easy to get and to pass around. In healthy people, they usually don't spread beyond the skin's surface, so they're easy to treat. If you spend a lot of time at the gym, take steps to protect yourself against fungal infections.
Ringworm isn't caused by worms. This raised, red, circular, itchy fungal infection can occur on the body or scalp. You're at greater risk if you come in contact with a pet or person with ringworm or with contaminated items. Prevent it by keeping your body clean and dry. It's easily spread, so don't share towels, combs, or other personal items.
Itchy, burning, cracked, and peeling feet? Athlete's foot is a form of ringworm that usually develops between the toes. It can spread via wet locker room floors and contaminated towels and shoes. Prevent it by wearing shower shoes at the gym, washing your feet daily, drying them well, and wearing clean socks.
A raised, itchy, red rash around your groin means you probably have jock itch, which can affect men and women. It's another type of ringworm, and it can be caused by sweating and the humid environment often created by athletic gear. You can prevent it by keeping your groin clean and dry, changing into dry, clean clothes and underwear every day, and avoiding tight clothing.
Brittle, discolored, thick nails may mean you have nail fungus. It can affect fingernails or toenails. Prevent nail fungus by keeping hands and feet clean and dry, wearing dry socks and changing them often, wearing shoes in a public shower, pool, or locker room, and not scratching infected skin, such as athlete's foot. Wear wide-toed shoes (so toes aren't crammed together), and don't share nail clippers.
Change out of your gym clothes right after a workout. Sweaty gear provides a perfect home for fungi and other germs to thrive and grow. Wash exercise clothes after each use. Wear clean clothes before each workout.
To prevent fungal infections from taking a foothold at home, your best defense is to keep skin clean and dry. Change underwear and socks daily. Let your sneakers air out and wash them regularly. Take your shoes off at home to expose your feet to the air.
To fight fungal infections at the gym, wear shower shoes in the locker room and avoid sitting on wet benches. Don't share workout mats or towels. Wash your hands before and after a workout, and don't forget to wipe down gym equipment before and after using it.
Despite your best efforts at prevention, you think you have a fungal infection. Now what? First, talk to your doctor. Other skin problems can look a lot like fungal infections, but require different treatment. For mild infections, topical medication may be all you need. Stubborn infections could require oral prescription drugs.
Fungal skin and nail infections may look bad, but they rarely lead to more than itching and irritation. Still, if you're worried about your jock itch, athlete's foot, or any rash, talk to your health care provider.
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- American Academy of Family Physicians: "Tinea Infections: Athlete's Foot, Jock Itch and Ringworm," "Fungal Infections of Fingernails and Toenails."
- CDC: "Lurking in the Locker Room."
- KidsHealth: "Fungal Infections," "Jock Itch."
- National Institutes of Health: "Athlete's Foot."
- PubMed Health: "Ringworm."
- Simmons College: "Gym Hygiene: How to Reduce the Risk of Infections in the Gym."
- University of California, Davis: "Nail Fungal Infections."
- University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas: "Health Watch - Toxic Gym Clothes."