Picked up a fungal infection at the gym?

Picked up a fungal infection at the gym?

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Here’s what you need to know!

Whether you’re a regular gym-goer, or you’ve got a sparkly new membership as part of your New Year resolutions, you’ll be eager to make the most out of every visit! But what happens when red, itchy and scaly feet are getting in the way and stopping or discouraging you from working out or staying as long as you’d like?

Unfortunately, in gyms – as well as any public changing room and showers – comes the risk of picking up a fungal skin infection that we call Athlete’s Foot, or tinea. Even worse, it’s very contagious and easy to pick up. Certain fungi can also affect your nails, causing a fungal toenail infection, medically referred to as onychomycosis. Both are unpleasant and can be difficult to control. So what should you do if you think you’ve picked up a fungal infection? We talk fungal infections by answering common questions we get about them!

1. How did I pick up a fungal infection?

Fungal nail infections are picked up by direct contact or through the air. Fungus breeds through spores that are airborne and thrives in damp, moist and warm conditions. This makes public showers, changing rooms and the like ideal breeding grounds. If you stand on the same spot as someone who has the fungal infection and the fungus comes in contact with your feet, an infection can develop.

2. Can it spread to my family members and how?

Yes, it absolutely can, and if you’re sharing showers, it very well might. Fungal infections are very contagious. If one of your toenails is infected and not treated, the rate of infection of the other nails is 100% over your lifetime. You share showers, floors and various surfaces in your home with your family, so they’re the ones at the highest risk.

3. Is it actually a fungal infection or something else?

We often have patients unsure if they have a fungal nail infection, or if it’s something else. Fungal skin infections (athlete’s foot) may be mistaken for dryness, blistering, rubbing/redness and various other skin conditions to the untrained eye. We’ll be able to tell you whether it is a fungal nail infection, or what the problem is. This is important as many people may spend money on anti-fungal creams when fungus isn’t the problem. Signs of athlete’s foot include:

  • Itchiness
  • Red, scaly patches on the skin on the bottom and sides of the feet
  • Stinging or burning
  • Breakdown of the skin between the toes that may present as cracks or fissures

Fungal nail infections can have the same look as psoriasis of the nail, non-fungal lines and ridges (which may worsen during pregnancy), injury to the nail which causes discolouration, the separation of the nail from the nail bed and more. Fungal nails may typically have one or all of the following:

  • White/yellow discolouration
  • Thickening of the nail
  • Brittle/crumbling nail
4. How can I get rid of the infection?

The good news is, athlete’s foot can usually be treated by using the right anti-fungal and keeping your feet dry. We’ll be able to give you the best advice for your particular feet when we examine your symptoms and confirm the presence of a fungus. In some cases, you may have both a fungal and a bacterial infection. These are trickier, and carry with them other symptoms such as greater moisture/sweating of the feet and a foot odour. Here you will benefit most from a cream that will specifically target your bacterial infection as well as the fungal infection. If there is any uncertainty, we can test for fungal infections and get the results back to you so you know what strain you have and can use the most effective treatment.

The bad news is that fungal toenail infections are significantly more difficult to treat. Current options available include topical agents such as creams and lacquers, oral medications, hot laser therapy and cold laser therapy. We’ll be able to discuss the best treatment options for your nails during your examination, but make sure to confirm that it is a fungal nail infection before purchasing costly anti-fungal creams.

5. Will the infection come back?

Just like how you can break a window, replace it, and break it again, you can pick up another fungal infection. Picking up a new fungal infection from another source in another location may be difficult to control, but you can do your best to manage the same fungal nail infection. This is by being careful in the place where you believe you originally picked up the infection (gym, swimming pool, public showers), as well as taking precautions to not catch your fungal infection again from your infected shoes, socks and floors. Because fungal spores can survive for months in your clothes, it’s important to take the right measures to kill the spores so they don’t reinfect your feet. This can include:

  • Wiping down infected surfaces with a strong agent such as bleach
  • Hot washing your socks, sheets and infected clothing with an anti-fungal powder
  • Using an anti-fungal spray in your shoes
  • Wearing shoes in public showers (and even your own)

We’ll run through all of the ways you can protect your feet, minimise the risk of your infection coming back, and answer any questions at your appointment. Fungal infections can be incredibly frustrating and often has people hiding their feet! Unfortunately, closed in shoes that get hot and sweaty (just like at the gym, or at work) are a perfect breeding ground for fungus and can keep your infection going for much longer. For this or any other problem with your skin, feet or legs, give our expert Podiatry team a call on 1300-FX-FEET and let’s get rid of that fungal infection once and for all!

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