Diabetes causes a wide range of changes in how the body functions, including cardiovascular issues that affect the skin and feet. Those changes make you more susceptible to the notorious and itchy athlete’s foot. As the name implies, this fungal infection is usually associated with sweaty feet in locker rooms. You can prevent a bout of athlete’s foot by consistently caring for your feet (and skin on the feet) and being prepared in conditions where athlete’s foot thrives.
Diabetes and Fungal Infections
High blood sugar levels can cause a narrowing of the arteries and capillaries that limits circulation to the extremities. These cardiovascular changes have a two-fold effect on the feet. The first is lowered immune system function. Without the immune system at full power, athlete’s foot can get started much easier and faster than it normally would.
The second effect of diabetes that contributes to fungal infections like athlete’s foot is diabetic neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy is nerve damage that feels like numbness and general loss of sensation. It makes it difficult for some people to notice small cuts or skin irritations. Openings in the skin are more susceptible to infection, including athlete’s foot. Also, if there’s nerve damage, you may not feel the first uncomfortable sensations of athlete’s foot. It can flair and progress before you even know it’s there.
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What Does Athlete’s Foot Look Like?
Athlete’s foot usually starts in warm, moist areas, like that found between the toes. From there, it can spread to the toes and skin on the foot. The scaly red rash it causes may burn and sting. Some types may develop blisters or progress to ulcers, a more dangerous problem for someone with diabetes. Lack of circulation and poor immune system response can make it difficult to heal if the infection progresses to that point.
How to Prevent Athlete’s Foot
With diabetes, prevention always includes careful management of your diabetes. But there’s more you can do than that to maintain the health of your feet and skin.
1. Daily foot checks
Daily foot checks keep you on top of any changes in the skin on your feet. Look between the toes and behind the heels, using a mirror if needed.
2. Wash, dry, and moisturize the skin daily
Fungal infections thrive in ongoing, moist conditions. Wash your feet with a gentle cleanser every day. Make sure your feet get completely dry, including between the toes. After they are dry, apply a moisturizer to maintain the flexibility and strength of the skin. Use a moisturizer like VitalFit’s Day Moisturizer that contains anti-fungal ingredients as another layer of defense against athlete’s foot.
3. Wear water shoes or flip-flops in public areas
Athlete’s foot is highly contagious. It’s known to go around locker rooms and public showers, which is why it’s a common problem among athletes. Wear water shoes or flip-flops to protect your feet from potential infection when you’re in public spaces like pools or locker rooms.
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4. Keep the feet dry
Excess perspiration contributes to the moist conditions that fungi like athlete’s foot love. Make sure to dry the feet well after showering. Also, be sure to wear shoes that allow the feet to breathe and don’t squish the toes too much. If you know you’ll be perspiring, you may need to take extra socks and keep a few supplies with you to wash and dry the feet.
5. Alternate your shoes
Shoes can take more than 24 hours to fully dry, especially athletic shoes in which you perspire more than usual. For some people, the only way to keep fungal infections under control is to have two pairs of shoes that they alternate wearing each day. One pair can fully dry while you wear the other pair.
6. Stay on top of general foot care
Diabetes can be hard on the feet without careful, consistent foot care. Regularly trim your toenails, treat calluses and blisters immediately, and take note of any changes in the skin on your feet. If a new sore, cut, or injury doesn’t heal within a day or two, call your doctor to find out if you need to make an appointment.
Even if you get athlete’s foot, most of the time, it clears up with treatment from over-the-counter medications. However, it can become a chronic problem. If you notice the telltale sting and it doesn’t clear up within a few days of at-home treatment, contact your doctor. Foot care is a part of diabetes management that can’t be skipped. It will keep you on your feet, active, and living the life you choose.