Doc On The Run Episode: Avoid Foot Fungus Around Swimming Pools

Avoid foot fungus around swimming pools

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Today on the Doc On The Run Podcast, we’re talking about how to avoid getting infected with foot fungus from swimming pools.

Yesterday I was talking to my sister, who is of course, also a marathon runner.  She has been running marathons way longer than me and she is always fit.

She runs in the morning and then swims later in the day.

Swimming is a great way to cross train, supplement your aerobic fitness, strengthen your core fitness and frankly stay cool and relax in the summer.

But I got an email from a runner who had a bout of toenail fungus that was severe enough to need laser treatment to kill the fungus in the toenails.

After the treatment she said:

Now that I’m feeling “fungus free” – new mindset, a few days on the oral meds, new shoes, new yoga mat, flip-flops for the health club – I’m wondering:  Is it OK to go back to swimming?  This is one of my favorite leisure and workout activities at my health club (Club Sport). I take it that I should wear flip flops to and from the pool, etc.  Any other advice or precautions? 

Yes! You can swim.

You just have to make sure you don’t pick up any more fungus.

The fungus doesn’t just jump up and attack your toenails. Runners and triathletes can get it, first in the form of athletes foot.

Here’s how that happens:

You walk about the pool.

You get some small skim abrasions on the concrete.

The fungal spores and live fungal filaments that thrive in moisture get stuck to your skin.

You get athletes foot.

The skin infections spreads.

You keep shedding fungus into your shoes then you bump the toes against the inside of the shoes.

The fungal spores get impacted into the toenails.

You’re training hard, so you immune system gets a little overworked, making just a little more susceptible to an infection.

The fungal spores that got pushed into your toenail when you hit the nails on the inside of your running shoes sprouts into a toenail fungus infection.

As the fungus grows within the toenails itself, the toenail get thicker, yellow, and ugly.

And just like that, you got funky toenails form a toenail fungus infections.

And it won’t go away on its own.

Then you have to treat it to get it to away.


-Once you get rid of the toenail fungus and start developing clear toenails again, the last thing you want is to get re-infected with the toenail fungus again later.

There is an approximate 50% rate of re-infection after a clinical cure (meaning the fungus has been completely removed from the toenail). For this reason is helpful to plan ahead and maximize your chances of success when you have chosen the laser treatment to rid your toes of toenail fungus.

Where does toenail fungus come from?

The organism that causes fungal toenail infections is everywhere.  The fungus is a living organism and spores are essentially the seeds that can sprout a fungal infection. However toenail fungus really has to have 3 basic ingredients to start to grow.

  1. Moisture
  2. Warmth
  3. Darkness

Unfortunately, shoes have all 3 of these ingredients.  So the inside of your shoes are perfect incubators for toenail fungus.

When you have an active toenail fungus infection the fungus is growing within the nail plate. As the fungus grows it produces spores which are continually shed into your socks in your shoes. Spores are basically seeds for fungus. These spores can lay dormant for a long period of time. Later on when you are wearing your shoes and the fungal spores become warm and moist the fungus will start to grow.

When you have active fungus in your shoes, all it takes is a little bit of trauma or pressure to the toenail plates in order to lift the toenail.  Any injury to the toenail can let the fungal spores get into the nail bed and start a toenail fungus infection.

But the first part of this equation is that you have the fungus in your shoes.

The obvious concern with the pool is moisture. However, there is no fungus in the pool. The fungus is more of a concern in the poorly ventilated locker rooms, nearby carpeting, etc.

If you want to be 100% vigilant regarding fungus and swimming:

1. Don’t go barefoot around the pool. Wear flip flops to/from the pool. Stand on your flip flops and not the floor when you shower or change clothes.

2. Dry your feet thoroughly right after you are done. Make sure to dry between the toes.

3. Re-apply Formula 3 to the toenails as soon as your feet are completely dry.

4. The soles of the flips flops will likely pick up fungus. Once you change clothes and put on your street shoes, wrap the flip flops up your towel and then dry the flip flops in the sun as soon as you get home. You can also spray them with Clean Sweep just to make sure you irradiate any potential fungal hitch-hikers.

The toenail fungus is very difficult to treat on your own. So you can treat it with laser treatment but that is relatively expensive and time consuming. You have to be really careful when you’re swimming in the summer months to make sure that you do not pick up any of that fungus.

But if you get in the habit of doing those things now when you go to the gym in the winter time, you will be a lot prepared to protect yourself from the fungus that routinely infects all those gym locker rooms. Then you can make sure that you don’t get any toenail fungus.

Stay fungus free and Enjoy your swim!

If you have a question that you would like answered as a future addition of the Doc On The Run Podcast, send it to me And then make sure you join me for the next edition of the Doc On The Run Podcast!

Dr. Christopher Segler is a podiatrist and ankle surgeon who has won an award for his research on diagnosing subtle fractures involving the ankle that are often initially thought to be only ankle sprains. He believes that it is important to see the very best ankle sprain doctor in San Francisco that you can find. Fortunately, San Francisco has many of the best ankle sprain specialists in the United States practicing right here in the Bay Area. He offers house calls for those with ankle injuries who have a tough time getting to a podiatry office. You can reach him directly at (415) 308-0833.

But if you are still confused and think you need the help of an expert, a “Virtual Doctor Visit” is the solution. He has been “meeting” with runners all over the world and providing just that sort of clarity through online consultations for years. He can discuss your injury, get the answers you need and explain what you REALLY need to do to keep running and heal as fast as possible.

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