If you spent your summer in gyms, locker rooms, and public pools, you likely had at least a little concern about picking up athlete’s foot or fungal toenails while you were there. They likely had little signs up about it and everything.
Once winter rolls around, the concern for fungal infections does tend to drop a bit. The pools get covered up, locker rooms tend to empty out more over the holidays (but kudos to you if you’ve stuck to it!), and gym shoes tend to get traded for winter boots.
We often think less about our feet when they’re surrounded by big winter boots than we do during sandal season. However, the risks of fungal infections are not completely eliminated during the season! In fact, certain conditions can make the risk of fungus just as likely or even more likely for some people than during the summer.
You’re Soaking in It
Fungus—from the kind that causes athlete’s foot to the type that turns your toenails into a crumbly discolored mess—needs two things to survive: warmth and moisture. A lack of light certainly helps, too.
Public workout areas such as pools and locker rooms have these elements in abundant supply, but so do some winter boots!
Winter boots and socks are made to keep our feet warm, and for some of us that can also mean sweaty.
Sweat that becomes trapped against our feet can be used as a haven for any fungus you might have potentially picked up, allowing it to thrive and multiply. The warmth and darkness are also included. It’s like a fungal luxury home!
In an almost contradictory twist, winter also tends to be the time when your feet are more likely to dry out. Even when your foot is soaking in sweat, that moisture is getting drawn out of the foot. The typically dry air your feet experience when outside of your boots furthers the problem.
Why is dryness bad? Even when your feet are exposed to fungus, you still have your skin and nails serving as protective measures to keep it out. When skin and nails become dry, however, they begin to weaken and crack, providing opportunities for the fungus to make its way in and set up shop.
Guarding Your Feet Against Fungus – The Winter Edition
The best way to deal with a nasty fungal infection is to prevent it from happening in the first place! The second-best method is identifying it early, but we’ll get to that later.
Having winter boots and socks that can keep moisture away from your skin should be your first line of defense:
- Avoid cotton socks. Cotton is absorbent and will keep moisture locked against your feet more than other fabrics. Wool is a much better material for wicking moisture away from the foot. If you are allergic or just don’t like the feel, a synthetic material such as acrylic can be a decent substitute.
- Wear boots with mesh uppers (if able). A mesh upper on your boots will allow more breathability and help wick moisture away. However, this will backfire on you if you’re walking through high snow or other wet conditions, as it allows water to more easily get into your boots as well. Only go with mesh when you are assured your walks are on plowed, clear surfaces only.
- Go for Gore-Tex. Gore-Tex is a thin, porous, synthetic material that is somehow good at both keeping outside water away from your foot and taking sweat away. A Gore-Tex liner is great for keeping feet dry, but not-so good at keeping warmth. You might need thicker socks or additional boot materials if deeper cold is a concern.
Even when socks and shoes are designed for wicking moisture away from your feet, you should still give them plenty of opportunities to dry out. Have at least two pairs of good winter boots that you can switch between daily. Give boots (and all shoes you own) at least 24 hours of freedom to properly dry out.
And of course, don’t wear the same pair of socks on consecutive days (your mother would be so disappointed in you). If you have a problem with excessive sweating and your socks tend to be drenched halfway through the day, have a clean pair on your person to switch into.
Additional measures you can take to protect your feet include:
- Spraying your feet with an antiperspirant. The more you keep your feet from sweating, the more comfortable you can be through the day, and less likely to pick up fungal infections.
- Addressing dryness and cracking. If your feet tend to dry out in the winter, use a moisturizing cream to combat the problem. If the cream also has anti-fungal properties, that’s even better! Just make sure not to absolutely slather your feet in moisturizer, and keep excess out from between your toes. That area can be especially productive for fungus, and having too much moisture there can be detrimental.
- Keeping an eye on early detection. Many times, fungal toenail infections tend to go unnoticed for a while, giving the fungus a chance to dig in. If you see a white streak or blemish on your nail, and it has not started to fade after several days (or has grown bigger), you should give us a call about it. Likewise, if you start feeling itching or burning on the skin, give us a call. We can recommend whether you should start athlete’s foot treatment.
Don’t let fungus cast a blight over your feet this winter (did that sound Game of Thrones-y enough?). For further help preventing fungal infections, or for treatment for current infections that have stayed stubbornly rooted, give Foot Specialists of Long Island a call at (844) 899-8658. You can also reach us using the contact form on our website.