Dorms: Can you get athlete’s foot from the dorm shower?

Shower shoes are like bathrobes for your feet. Donning them at all necessary times will help to protect you from embarrassing and itchy consequences, like athlete's foot.
Shower shoes are like bathrobes for your feet. Donning them at all necessary times will help to protect you from embarrassing and itchy consequences, like athlete's foot.
Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Thinkstock

College can be rough, especially if you're a freshman. New friends, crusty professors, looming term papers and Friday afternoon classes are some of the hurdles newbies navigate. No one would blame you if you decided to call it a day, take a hot shower, and wash your academic and personal troubles down the drain.

Beware. Lurking on the seemingly clean dorm shower floor are myriad creatures waiting to glom onto your body. Perhaps the most insidious are mold-like fungi called dermatophytes. Typically two types of dermatophytes, Trichophyton mentagrophytes and Trichophyton rubrum, can give you a nagging case of tinea pedis. Sounds awful, doesn't it? Despite its hard-to-pronounce Latin name, the malady is usually referred to as athlete's foot [source: WebMD].

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Athlete's foot is a common infection that affects the bottoms of your feet and the areas between your toes. If left unchecked, this creeping crud can spread to your toenails, hands, underarms, and heaven forbid, your groin. The fungal species T. mentagrophytes will cause blisters, generally around the webbing of the toe. Meanwhile T. rubrum causes an infection that spreads around the sole of the foot [source: WebMD].

Despite its wide world of sports name, you don't have to be an athlete to get the condition. All you have to do is come in contact with the fungi. Dorm showers are the most commonplace areas to contract athlete's foot.

Read on to find out how easy it is to get it and how you can stop it from spreading. Your feet will thank you later.

Infection Connection

This case of athlete's foot has made a fissure between the toes. Exactly what you need in college.
This case of athlete's foot has made a fissure between the toes. Exactly what you need in college.
© Lester V. Bergman/CORBIS

Athlete's foot isn't a serious condition, but it is annoying. Severe cases can cause a bacterial infection that can spread throughout your leg. You'll know when you have athlete's foot. It usually shows up as a red, crusty rash. It might be on the soles of both feet or on one or two toes. It burns, itches and stings. Although contagious, it's hard to pass athlete's foot from person-to-person contact [source: Schmitt]. Moreover, the fungi that cause the problem seem to attack those who have already gone through puberty (presumably all of the collegiate community) [source: Bennett].

The mostly likely place to pick up athlete's foot in college is a shared shower, like the one in your dormitory or in the gym locker room. You can also get it from padding along barefoot near swimming pools. These hot and humid places prove irresistible for the fungi. Dorm showers are especially bad places for athlete's foot because people are rinsing off throughout the day. As a result, the shower floor never gets a chance to dry, which would slow the fungal growth [source: Brichford].

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Several things can happen when an infection sets in. If you have an interdigital (between the toes) infection, the skin will become pale and moist. It will itch and burn. Your feet might also emit a most unpleasant odor. As athlete's foot spreads, it cracks and peels the skin between your toes, opening the way for a bacterial infection of the lower leg [source: WebMD].

If you see athlete's foot spreading around the sole of the foot, then you're the lucky recipient of a moccasin-type infection. This type begins slowly as your skin dries up and begins to itch. Next, the skin starts to burn, and the soles of your feet crack. If the problem isn't taken care of quickly, the fungus can spread to your toenails. If that happens, the nails can become thick and fall off. Another type of athlete's foot starts out as blisters that redden and then burst [source: WebMD].

Prevention and Treatment of Athlete's Foot

Men seem to be more susceptible to athlete's foot than women, as are older adults, people who have had previous fungal infections or those with compromised immune systems. The key is to treat it quickly before the problem worsens.

The most important way to handle athlete's foot is to prevent the condition from occurring in the first place. To do that, keep your feet as dry as you can. When taking a shower, wear flip-flops or shower shoes. They'll create a barrier between the fungi and your tootsies. After you get out, use your hair dryer to give a toes and feet a blast of hot air. When you're not showering, wear shoes that let a lot of air pass through. Vinyl shoes, for example, will stymie air flow and keep your feet moist. Also, wear cotton socks that absorb moisture. Wash your feet every day with soap and water [sources: MedicineNet.com, Brichford].

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If you already have athlete's foot, you can treat it by using many over-the-counter fungal creams. It's important to continue using the creams for at least another month after all the symptoms have disappeared, but do check the specific product's directions [source: MedicineNet.com].

Another remedy is to douse your dogs with medicated powders such as those containing miconazole, an antifungal medication. You can also soak your puppies in a solution containing aluminum acetate, which kills bacteria and many types of fungi [source: MedicineNet.com].

The key is to treat it quickly before the problem worsens. Speaking of which, the best time to call a doctor is when your skin begins severely peeling or cracking, or blisters form. If your feet hurt; if they are swelling; if they are red or tender, then you might have a bacterial infection. Also, see a doctor if the wounds on your feet begin oozing pus [source: WebMD].

Lastly, it bears repeating that the dorm shower can be a microbial minefield. T. mentagrophytes and T. rubrum are just two of the many creatures that hide on the shower floor. A study conducted by the Simmons College Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community, found that shower floors were the most contaminated surfaces in college dormitories. In fact, it's probably cleaner to wash your face with toilet water than it is to step barefoot on the floor of a shared dormitory shower, although we wouldn't recommend it. According to the report, the shower floor had more than 40 times the number of bacteria than the toilet seat [source: Reckitt Benckiser].

The bottom line is to keep your feet dry and safe. You only have two feet, and you don't want to be scratching them in class or the library.

Author's Note: Dorms: Can you get athlete's foot from the dorm shower?

As we speak, my feet are sopping wet, and my socks are saturated. I just took the dogs outside, and the early morning dew soaked through my sneakers. Not to worry, such articles as the one you just read are very informative to research. In a few moments, I will dry my feet and put on a fresh pair of socks. I don't need to itch from now until winter dries my skin like a snake on a hot rock. Frankly, I never had athlete's foot before, although I did have a nagging plantar wart. In case you wanted to know, I refused to go to the doctor and treated the thing myself. It finally went away after a few years. Yuck!

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Sources

  • Bennett, Howard. "What causes athlete's foot?" The Washington Post. Sept. 14, 2012. (July 31, 2013) http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-09-14/lifestyle/35497233_1_foot-fungus-fungal-infection-blisters
  • Brichford, Connie. "Protect Your Foot Health At College." Everyday Health. (July 31, 2013) http://www.everydayhealth.com/college-health/protect-your-foot-health-at-college.aspx
  • Mayo Clinic. "Athlete's Foot." Nov. 23, 2010. (Aug. 1, 2013) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/athletes-foot/DS00317/DSECTION=causes
  • MedicineNet.com. “What is the treatment for athlete’s foot?” (Aug. 2, 2013) http://www.medicinenet.com/athletes_foot/page4.htm#what_is_the_treatment_for_athletes_foot
  • Reckitt Benckiser. "Study Shows College Students Are Not Following CDC Recommendations to Help Protect Themselves from H1N1 and Other Threatening Germs." PR Newswire. (Aug. 2, 2013) http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/study-shows-college-students-are-not-following-cdc-recommendations-to-help-protect-themselves-from-h1n1-and-other-threatening-germs-62781107.html
  • Schmitt, Barton D., M.D. "Athlete's Foot (Tinea Pedis)." Children's Physician Network (online). June 6, 2011. (Aug. 9, 2013) http://www.cpnonline.org/CRS/CRS/pa_athlfoot_hhg.htm
  • WebMD.com. “Athlete’s Foot.” June 28, 2010. (July 31, 2013) http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/tc/athletes-foot-cause.