Finding a split toe after swimming can be bothersome, especially if it is painful. It can be caused by many factors, infections and conditions, some that require the attention of a doctor.
Because symptoms can be extreme, it's beneficial to understand why splitting skin develops after swimming and how you can treat it and prevent it from reoccurring.
Symptoms of Split Toe
Cracked skin on the bottom of the toes — sometimes called "pool toe" in common lingo — can vary from mild to severe. Besides splitting skin, you can also experience bleeding, skin tightness, redness, extreme itching, peeling skin, fine lines, skin on the feet that looks dehydrated or shrunken, a rash or the formation of a substance that appears "cheesy" and unpleasant smelling between your toes.
What Causes It?
Frequently swimming in pools that are heavily chlorinated can be irritating and cause the skin on the bottom of your toes to split open. In addition, if you frequently swim outdoors, the exposure to the sun and heat can dry out your skin and encourage irritation and cracking.
Fungi and viruses that cause severe irritation and skin cracking, such as Athlete's foot or verrucas, thrive on the damp and warm floors that surround a pool and can easily be contracted while entering or exiting the pool. Some conditions, such as atopic dermatitis and psoriasis can be exacerbated by excessive exposure to water.
Remedies for Cracked Toes
Thoroughly dry off your feet and between your toes with a towel immediately after you get out of the pool. Don't put your socks or shoes on until your feet are completely dry.
Rub a thick moisturizer onto your feet and toes. Place an ice pack against the bottom of your toes to help soothe irritation and itching.
Apply a hydrocortisone ointment to the broken skin and cover the wound with a bandage if severely irritated. Use an anti-fungal medication if you suspect a condition such as Athlete's foot. See a doctor if your symptoms are extreme, prolonged or do not subside with home remedies — you might need prescription-strength medication.
According to U.S. Masters Swimming, topical treatments won't help if your toe fungus has penetrated the nails, so address these symptoms as soon as you notice them. Symptoms of nail fungus can include white, yellow, or brown spots under the nail, distorted shape, foul smell and brittle nails, according to Mayo Clinic.
Preventing "Pool Toe"
Always wear flip-flops or sandals when you are walking around the pool area and shower room. Because fungus and bacteria can thrive on towels, never share your towel with someone else.
Allow your feet and toes to dry thoroughly after swimming before you put on socks or shoes — bacteria and fungus thrive in wet, warm areas. Spray your shoes often with a disinfectant spray if you are prone to fungal or bacterial toe infections.