Athlete’s foot is a fungus that spreads easily among unsuspecting travelers. By following a few simple tips, you can ensure you don’t contaminate your feet in your hotel room or at the barefoot spectacle known as airport security.

Athlete’s foot is the most common fungal infection of the feet. Every day, podiatrists see people with feet that burn, itch, and peel. Although many different species of fungi and yeasts can cause the problem, the ways you as a traveler can prevent it are simple and effective.

The fungus that causes athlete’s foot thrives in dark, warm, moist places. Shoes are the perfect habitat for fungi. Unfortunately for business travelers and tourists, there are many places in airports, hotels, and vacation spots that are covered in fungus just waiting to infect your feet.

Any time live foot fungus or fungal spores (which are basically fungal seeds waiting to sprout) attach themselves to bare skin or enter through small openings in the skin, they can take hold and start to grow. As the fungus grows, it draws water from the surrounding skin.

This leads to flaking and itchy skin as the fungus damages and causes delamination or peeling of the outer layers of skin. The infection often begins in the moist area between the toes or on the bottom of the foot.

Foot doctors often describe a “moccasin distribution” pattern with athlete’s foot infections. This means that the areas of the feet that become red and begin to flake are usually the ones that would be in contact with moccasins. The tops of the feet and ankles are not usually affected.

Fortunately for you, the most effective prevention measures are also very easy…don’t step on the fungus! When you’re on the go, you just have to know where not to step.

You have to make sure to protect your shoes against fungus. Shoes should be a safe haven for your feet. Anytime you have live fungus or fungal spores in your shoes, you are at risk of toenail fungus or athlete’s foot infection.

No matter what you do, when you travel, your feet will breathe. A fast-paced, stressful airport terminal, trying to make that connection while carrying a laptop and handbag will have you (and your feet) sweating like crazy.

Since fungi need moisture to live, you should do what you can to reduce moisture in your shoes. A good place to start is with well-ventilated shoes that breathe while you’re on the go. Shoes that have a breathable mesh upper made of nylon, mesh, or cotton breathe quite well and let moisture escape. Leather, plastic, and rubber tend to trap fungus in shoes, which encourages their growth.

Make sure to rotate your shoes during your trip. Have at least two pairs of shoes so you can wear them every other day. This will allow them enough time to dry completely before using them again.

If you’re very active or your feet sweat a lot, try changing your socks in the middle of the day. This is one of the easiest ways to keep your feet dry and fungus free. Wear synthetic socks and avoid cotton to keep moisture away from your feet. There are also newer socks available that have interwoven copper fibers. Copper stitching to decrease the chance of fungus taking root in the sock material.

Because even the most relaxing vacations involve a lot of walking through airports, hotels, and sightseeing, choose comfortable walking shoes for your trip. Many vacationers opt for sandals or flip flops when on vacation, however, this can lead to friction blisters that let the fungus in and start the infection.

Be sure to avoid fungal hotspots. The rug you feel under your sock-covered feet as you wait to pass through security is a haven for the fungus that causes athlete’s foot. All day and night, sweaty feet emerge from their shoes and shuffle across the carpet. Everyone walks and stands in this continual stream of sweaty feet and shedding foot fungus. As you walk down the line, your sweaty socks pick up fungal spores. He then puts his feet back into the shoes that act as incubators to start his own foot fungus farm.

Unfortunately, most airport security checks now require every pair of shoes to go through the X-ray machine. But that doesn’t mean you can’t protect your feet. A simple solution is to wear an old, worn-out pair of socks at the airport. Carry a clean pair in your pocket. Take off your shoes and walk through security in your old, worn-out socks. After passing the checkpoint, remove your old socks and put on your clean ones before putting your shoes back on. Throw out the old socks. Now you can start your holidays without mushrooms!

The next place to avoid is the hotel carpet and bathroom. You never know how clean those places are, regardless of how expensive the hotel is. Just because it costs as much as a hospital room doesn’t mean it’s as clean. If you wear socks in the hotel room, just don’t put your shoes on until you change your socks.

Be sure to also step on the plush mat when you get out of the shower. If possible, get a clean mat with clean towels every day. If you go down to the sauna in the sports facilities, be sure to wear shower shoes. All the heat and moisture create the ideal fungal environment. Fungus can also grow on the tiles around pools and hot tubs, but the chlorine in the water actually helps keep it from being such a big problem.

If your trip takes you somewhere where you can hit the beach, be sure to wear sandals to protect your feet. Don’t forget that any small cut or abrasion is the best way for fungus to enter and start the athlete’s foot infection.

Now that you understand the basics about foot fungus and where it tends to thrive, you can easily avoid it. Between airlines and security, traveling has its fair share of aggravations. You certainly don’t need anything else to get under your skin.

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