Fungal 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.
Itchy, burning, cracked, and peeling feet? Athlete's foot (tinea pedis) usually develops between the toes and can spread via wet locker room floors, sweaty socks, and damp 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 (tinea cruris), which can affect men and women. 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, and wearing dry, clean underwear and loose pants after a workout.
Ringworm (tinea corporis) isn't caused by worms. This raised, red, circular, itchy fungal infection -- usually with clearer skin in the center -- can occur on the body or scalp (tinea capitis). You're at greater risk if your skin is often exposed to a warm, moist environment and you come in contact with ringworm from a person or pet. Prevent it by showering after sweating, then drying well. It's easily spread, so don't share towels, combs, or other personal items.
Brittle, discolored, thick nails may mean you have nail fungus (onychomycosis). Though more common in toenails, fungus can affect fingernails too, and is encouraged by warm, damp conditions. Prevent nail fungus by keeping nails short and wearing clean, dry socks, and changing them often. Wear wide-toed shoes (so toes aren't crammed together), and don't share nail clippers.
Caring for Gym Clothes
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.
Fungal Infections: Hygiene at Home
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.
Gym and Locker Room Hygiene
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.
Treating Fungal Infections
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. More serious problems could require oral prescription drugs.
Can Fungal Infections Make You Sick?
Fungal infections may look bad, but they rarely lead to more than itch and irritation. Unless you have a weakened immune system, your body is usually good at tackling infection before it causes serious illness. Still, if you're worried about your jock itch, athlete's foot, or any rash, talk to your doctor.