Blame the advertising man who misnamed it in the 1930s, but athlete's foot has nothing to do with athletes. It's a fungal infection of the feet. Also known as tinea pedis, or "ringworm of the feet," it has nothing to do with worms either. The Trichophyton fungus that causes the redness, itching, cracking, and scaling of athlete's foot can also infect the scalp, where it causes hair loss and scaly patches; the body, where it causes round, red, scaly patches that itch; and the groin, where the so-called "jock itch" causes itching and thickening of the skin. So what causes athlete's foot?
- Athlete's foot is the most common fungal infection of the skin. It affects more men than women, probably because men typically wear heavy, often airtight shoes, and the fungus loves hot, dark, moist environments.
- Contrary to popular myth, athlete's foot fungus isn't just found in locker rooms, although the moist locker-room environment is perfect for fungal growth. In fact, most people harbor the fungus on their skin, but it's kept in check by bacteria that also normally live on the skin.
- Skin that is irritated, weakened, or continuously moist is primed for an athlete's foot infection. And certain medications, including antibiotics, corticosteroids, birth control pills, and drugs that suppress immune function, can make you more susceptible. People who are obese and those who have diabetes mellitus or a weakened immune system, such as those with AIDS, also are at increased risk. Although anyone can get athlete's foot, teenage and adult males are at the top of the fungus-foot list.
Most cases of athlete's foot cause only bothersome redness, itching, flaking, and scaling on the soles of the feet and between the toes. In severe cases, however, blisters form on the soles of the feet; fissures, or cracks, that weep fluid can also open between the toes. These fissures can cause a stinging pain and are vulnerable to secondary infection. When the infection involves the toenails, it can cause the nails to become discolored and thick. Also, if left untreated, athlete's foot can infect other parts of the body.
Doctors don't agree on exactly how athlete's foot is spread, but most believe it's passed by direct contact with an infected person or with a contaminated surface, such as the floor of a shower stall. But the real determinants of whether or not you'll get the infection are how susceptible you are and how dry you keep your feet.
If you have contracted athlete's foot, don't despair. You can try a number of home remedies to give your athlete's foot the boot. See the next page to get started.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.
Home Remedy Treatments for Athlete's Foot
Here are some home remedies for preventing the spread of athlete's foot, curing a mild case at home, and choosing the right footwear.
Spread the Word
If you have athlete's foot, follow these simple tips to reduce the risk of spreading it:
- Wash your hands with soap and water after coming into contact with the infected area.
- After bathing, wash out the tub or shower with an antiseptic cleaner such as Lysol.
- Don't share towels, and keep your linens and towels clean.
- Wash your socks twice in extra-hot water to kill fungal spores. Never wear the same pair of socks more than once without washing them first.
- Wear thongs in public showers.
- Keep your feet dry, and use over-the-counter treatments to clear your infection quickly.
Best Foot Forward
While severe or stubborn cases of athlete's foot may require a doctor's care, most can be effectively treated at home. The following strategies can help you soothe and heal athlete's foot and keep it from cropping up in the future.
Move away from moisture.
When you think about athlete's foot fungus, remember that it likes moist, warm, dark environments. All of your treatment and prevention strategies should center around keeping your feet as dry as possible.
Dry thoroughly between your toes.
If you can't get your feet dry enough with a towel, try drying them with a handheld hair dryer on the "warm" setting.
Wash your feet twice a day with soap and water, and dry them thoroughly.
Kick off your shoes.
Go barefoot or wear sandals or open-toed shoes whenever you can, when not in a moist environment. Of course, it's not always possible to go barefoot, especially at work. But you may be able to sneak off those shoes during lunch, at break time, or when you're sitting at your desk. Going barefoot is best done indoors, where you are less likely to cut, scrape, or otherwise injure your foot.
Over-the-counter antifungal preparations are very effective for most cases of athlete's foot. These products come in creams, sprays, or solutions and contain tolnaftate (Tinactin), miconazole (Micatin), or undecylenic acid (Desenex). Creams seem to be more effective, but powders can help absorb moisture. Apply the medication twice a day after washing and drying the feet.
Too often, people stop using the antifungal preparations as soon as symptoms go away. The fungus, however, may still be present, so continue to use the medication for three to six weeks. Once the infection has cleared, keep using the antifungal cream, powder, or lotion once a day or once a week, whatever keeps your feet fungus free.
Soak them in Betadine.
If the infection has caused redness and cracks between the toes, the fungal infection may be compounded by a bacterial infection. Soak your feet once a day for 20 minutes in a solution of two capfuls Betadine (available over-the-counter at pharmacies) and one quart warm water (skip this remedy if you are pregnant, however). After the Betadine soak, dry your feet well, and apply antifungal medication.
While the idea is to dry out the infection, avoid home remedies that involve strong chemicals and solvents, such as bleach, alcohol, or floor cleaners, which can severely damage skin.
Treat your shoes.
If you have fungus on your feet, you've got fungus in your shoes. To keep from reinfecting yourself every time you put your shoes on, treat your shoes with Lysol spray or an antifungal spray or powder every time you take off your shoes.
Air 'em out.
On warm, sunny days, take the laces out of your shoes, pull up their tongues, and set them in a sunny, well-ventilated place. The sunshine and circulating air will help dry out the shoes and kill fungus.
Switch shoes at least every other day. Wear one pair for a day, while you treat the other pair with sunlight and an antifungal spray or powder. If your feet sweat a lot, change your shoes a couple times a day.
Choose shoes with care.
When you have to wear shoes, opt for sandals or other opened-toed shoes that give your feet lots of air. Avoid shoes made of plastic or rubber or shoes that are watertight. These shoes trap perspiration and create the warm, moist conditions perfect for growing a new crop of fungus. When you must wear closed-toed shoes, opt for natural, breathable materials such as leather. And don't share or swap shoes with anyone. If you find yourself with a pair of someone else's vintage shoes, treat them with an antifungal powder before you put them on.
Exercise your sock options.
Socks made of natural fibers such as cotton and wool help to absorb perspiration and keep the feet dry. However, some research suggests acrylic socks may do an even better job of keeping feet dry by wicking moisture away from the feet. So what kind do you choose? Try a pair of both, and see which one keeps your feet drier and more comfortable.
If your feet naturally sweat a lot or if you're participating in activities such as sports that make your feet sweat more than usual, change your socks two or three times a day.
When you're in a public place likely to harbor athlete's foot fungus, such as the locker room of your favorite gym, wear thongs or similar shower shoes to limit your exposure to fungus. Although this technique isn't foolproof, it will decrease your risk of athlete's foot, and it may prevent you from picking up other nasty foot maladies, such as plantar warts.
Numerous antifungal creams are on the market that can rid you of your foot fungus. They tend to be costly, though, and you may have to buy several tubes or cans before the problem is cleared up. Before you trudge off to the pharmacy on those poor, itchy feet, you might want to try some of the home remedies on the next page.
Natural Home Remedies for Athlete's Foot
Everyday items in your kitchen can help prevent athlete's foot and ease uncomfortable symptoms. Keep reading for home remedies that fight the fungus.
Baking soda. Sprinkle baking soda directly into your shoes to absorb moisture.
Cornstarch. Rub cornstarch, which absorbs moisture, on your feet. Very lightly browned cornstarch is even better because any moisture content already contained in the cornstarch is removed, allowing for better absorption. To brown, sprinkle cornstarch on a pie plate and bake at 325 degrees for just a few minutes, until it looks brownish. Then dab some on your feet and toes.Crush 1 clove garlic and mix with a few drops of olive oil to make a paste. Apply to the nail and leave on for 15 to 30 minutes, then clean off in warm, soapy water. Dry feet thoroughly. Repeat daily. Because the fungus can return, you may wish to continue this treatment for several weeks after the fungus has disappeared, just to ward off another fungal visit.
Garlic. Eat some garlic! It has antifungal properties. You can also swab the affected area with garlic juice twice a day. If your toenail appears to have the fungus, use this recipe:
Crush 1 clove garlic and mix with a few drops of olive oil to make a paste. Apply to the nail and leave on for 15 to 30 minutes, then clean off in warm, soapy water. Dry feet thoroughly. Repeat daily. Because the fungus can return, you may wish to continue this treatment for several weeks after the fungus has disappeared, just to ward off another fungal visit.
Immune-boosting foods. Low immunity can make you more susceptible to a fungal infection, so include some of these immune-boosting foods in your diet: broccoli, red meats, and scallions. (See also "Home Remedies From the Cupboard" for more immune-boosting foods.)
Cinnamon. A good soak in a cinnamon tea foot bath will help slow down the fungus. Boil 8 to 10 broken cinnamon sticks in 4 cups water, then simmer for five minutes. Let steep for another 45 minutes. Soak your feet for 15 to 30 minutes. Repeat daily, as needed.
Yogurt. One of the greatest of all fungus-fighting foods in your fridge is yogurt that contains live acidophilus. The flavor isn't important as long as the yogurt contains the active bacteria. (Commercial yogurts with live culture now carry a seal indicating this; a live culture is crucial!) Acidophilus helps control vaginal and oral yeast, but it may give other fungi a pretty good fight, too. And if nothing else, it tastes good and is good for you.
Lemon. This remedy will help you in the sweaty foot-odor department. Squeeze the juice from a lemon and mix it with 2 ounces water. Rinse your feet with the lemon water.
Vinegar. Soak your feet in 1 cup vinegar to 2 quarts water for 15 to 30 minutes every night. Or make a solution of 1 cup vinegar to 1 cup water, and apply it directly to the affected areas with a cotton ball. If the infection is severe and the skin is raw, the solution will sting. Make sure your feet are completely dry before putting on your socks or slippers. Cider vinegar can also be used as a remedy. Mix equal parts apple cider (or regular) vinegar and ethyl alcohol. Dab on the affected areas. Again, be aware this will sting if the skin is raw.
Tea. The tannic acid in tea is soothing, helps to dry the foot, and helps kill the fungus. Make a foot soak by putting 6 black tea bags in 1 quart warm water.
Salt. Soak your infected foot in warm salt water, using 1 teaspoon salt for each cup of water, for 10 minutes. Dry your foot thoroughly, then dab some baking soda between your toes.
Athlete's foot can be an irritating and even painful problem, but a little vigilance and the simple remedies in this article can keep your feet dry and healthy. See the next page for when to see a doctor for athlete's foot.
When to See a Doctor for Athelete's Foot
While most cases of athlete's foot can be effectively treated with home remedies, you should see a doctor if:
- You develop cracks in the webs between your toes. Cracks could be a sign of cellulitis, a skin infection.
- Your athlete's foot infection doesn't respond to home remedies or over-the-counter treatments within two to three weeks. You may have eczema, psoriasis, or some other ailment.
- Your infection is getting worse despite treatment. Some fungus strains are very hardy and require prescription medications such as ketoconazole and griseofulvin.
- One or both feet swell.
- Pus appears in the lesions.
- The fungus spreads to your hands. Treatment may require prescription oral medication.
- The toenails appear thick and discolored. This indicates the toenails have become infected with the fungus. Over-the-counter medications often fail to work on toenail fungus.
For more information and to see all of our home remedies and the conditions they treat, go to our main Home Remedies page.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Timothy Gower is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in many publications, including Reader's Digest, Prevention, Men's Health, Better Homes and Gardens, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times. The author of four books, Gower is also a contributing editor for Health magazine.
Alice Lesch Kelly is a health writer based in Boston. Her work has been published in magazines such as Shape, Fit Pregnancy, Woman's Day, Reader's Digest, Eating Well, and Health. She is the co-author of three books on women's health.
Linnea Lundgren has more than 12 years experience researching, writing, and editing for newspapers and magazines. She is the author of four books, including Living Well With Allergies.
Michele Price Mann is a freelance writer who has written for such publications as Weight Watchers and Southern Living magazines. Formerly assistant health and fitness editor at Cooking Light magazine, her professional passion is learning and writing about health.
ABOUT THE CONSULTANTS:
Ivan Oransky, M.D., is the deputy editor of The Scientist. He is author or co-author of four books, including The Common Symptom Answer Guide, and has written for publications including the Boston Globe, The Lancet, and USA Today. He holds appointments as a clinical assistant professor of medicine and as adjunct professor of journalism at New York University.
David J. Hufford, Ph.D., is university professor and chair of the Medical Humanities Department at Pennsylvania State University's College of Medicine. He also is a professor in the departments of Neural and Behavioral Sciences and Family and Community Medicine. Dr. Hufford serves on the editorial boards of several journals, including Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine and Explore.