Athlete’s foot affects about one in five people, according to certain studies cited by WebMD. Luckily, it’s a very treatable condition, but that doesn’t mean it’s pleasant to endure. In fact, it can be quite detrimental to a person’s performance both on and off the sports field.

Though technically a fungal infection (known medically as tinea pedis, “ringworm of the foot”), athlete’s foot can at first just appear as incredibly dry skin, though if left unchecked, it could leave to a number of more severe foot problems, like burning pain and oozing blisters. So, what causes this unfortunate condition in the first place?

  • Tight shoes: Any piece of footwear that squeezes toes together can help cause athlete’s foot, and plastic shoes tend to be the worst offenders, because of how they trap moisture near your feet.
  • Sweating: Really, any lingering moisture inside your socks or shoes will up your risk of developing athlete’s foot symptoms.
  • Direct contact: Though you’re probably not often touching your teammates’ feet, the infection can be spread in locker rooms through either accidental contact or…
  • Indirect contact: A surface that’s been infected in a locker room (like a sock, a towel or even a bathmat) can also transmit the fungus to you.

If you’ve ever endured athlete’s foot, you understand how uncomfortable and painful it can be. As we mentioned above, the symptoms aren’t permanent, but they can still be a nuisance to deal with. In order to avoid this kind of foot pain whether you’re trying out for varsity or simply tossing the pigskin in the backyard, here’s what should you do:

Keep your feet dry.
After the game, it’s important to let your feet air out. Keeping moisture trapped between your toes is one of the ways athlete’s foot can get started in the first place, so try to avoid keeping your toes cooped up for too long. Along those same lines, changing your socks often (even in the middle of a game) can do wonders for general cleanliness.

Wear ventilated shoes.
Because athlete’s foot causes foot pain, it’s important to invest in shoes that feel as comfortable as possible. But even above comfort, ventilation should be your number-one priority when it comes to footwear. More airflow means less moisture for your feet, and that’s good news for trying to ward off infections and harmful fungi.

Protect yourself.
It’s not just the sports field you have to worry about — it’s the locker room, too. Invest in a good pair of sandals or shower shoes to wear when you’re rinsing off after the game, and do the same thing at public pools and fitness centers. Plus, it’s a good idea to pick up some powder (anti-fungal is best) to apply after every shower, to treat your skin.

For more information on lingering foot pain, athlete’s foot treatment and general infection prevention, find a podiatrist near you who can answer your questions.