Athletes foot is a fungal infection that affects the feet. It is medically referred to as tinea pedis, belonging to the same group of fungi (dermatophytes), responsible for various other common fungal infections like jock itch or tinea cruris and ringworm or Tinea corporis. The fungus tends to thrive in warm and moist areas such as the region between the toes. Athletes foot is a fairly common condition that results in symptoms such as itching and flaking of the affected skin. The infection is more common in men. Individuals with a compromised or weak immune system are more prone to the infection. Even children may be susceptible to athletes foot. The infection spreads easily through contact with an affected individual or from the sharing of personal items. Even walking barefoot on a contaminated surface can put you at risk of developing the infection. This is the reason why athletes foot usually occurs in individuals who use common swimming pools or locker rooms. Athletes foot also tends to recur and many individuals are likely to suffer from the infection again after a period of time.
Symptoms of Athletes Foot
There are several signs and symptoms of the infection. Some of the most prominent indicators of athletes foot are as follows:
- Itching between the toes
- Burning sensation
- Peeling of the skin
- Dryness of the soles of the feet and toes
- Thickening and discoloration of the toenails
- In some cases, the toenails may develop a fungal infection
Most cases of athletes foot are can be dealt with quite effectively at home by simply using over the counter anti-fungal medications and ointments. There are many natural treatments for the infection as well, but their efficacy is often questionable. In case the symptoms worsen, it is advisable to see a doctor. Also seek quick medical care in case there are symptoms such as persistent skin rash, swelling, redness, fever and drainage. Diabetic individuals should also consult their doctors, as they may experience problems in healing.
Causes of Athletes Foot
Athletes foot is caused by the growth of fungus on the skin. In addition to the feet and toes, the infection may also affect the palms and fingers. There are certain risk factors that increase the possibility of fungal infections. These include:
- Excessive sweating
- Minor injuries to the skin or nails
- Wearing closed shoes
- Keeping the feet wet for long periods of time
Like most other fungal infections, the infection can spread very easily through direct contact or through contact with contaminated surfaces, making it highly contagious. Sharing of towels, shoes, socks and other such items can also cause the infection to spread rapidly.
Remedies for Athletes Foot
Persistent or recurring cases of athletes foot should be referred to a dermatologist. Over the counter treatments are effective in mild cases and home remedies may help to some extent, but should not be relied on exclusively. Here are some home remedis for athletes foot.
Fungal infections thrive in moist and warm environments, and your body provides fungi with just such an environment, particularly in areas that remain warm and moist like the groins, feet and other skin folds. The first step therefore is to take corrective action and make lifestyle changes to control the problem:
- Make it a point to bathe regularly and try and use an antifungal soap or cream on the area after a bath. Always make sure to dry off thoroughly after your bath, or after any exertion that causes sweating. Dusting an antifungal powder over the area and any other region thats susceptible to infection will also help.
- Wearing closed shoes for a prolonged period of time provides dermatophytes with the perfect environment. As far as possible, avoid wearing closed shoes, instead try using sandals or slippers. If you must wear closed shoes, make it a point to air out your feet frequently, and change your socks as frequently as possible.
- While over the counter medications for fungal infections can be quite effective, its important that you adhere strictly to the recommendations. Topical applications need to be applied regularly and the practice needs to be maintained for three to six weeks. Most individuals who do not have success with these treatments experience the problem because most tend to abandon the treatment program as soon as they find that most symptoms have subsided or resolved completely. This greatly increases the risk of a recurrence however.
- Avoid exposure to strong floor cleaners, detergents and bleach as these can damage the skin and aggravate the infection
- Any kind of garments or clothing that comes in contact with the infected skin should be disinfected thoroughly, such as your socks and shoes or even sandals. Contaminated objects not only pose a risk of spreading infection, but can also cause a recurrence of the infection. While clothing needs to be washed thoroughly, footwear like shoes may be dusted and treated with anti-fungal powders. As part of your anti-fungal treatment for shoes, you can even keep them in a well ventilated area with plenty of sunlight to dry them out.
- If you experience excessive sweating in the feet, avoid wearing plastic or rubber shoes as these trap moisture. Leather is a natural material that allows the feet to breathe. But make sure that your shoes are not too tight and uncomfortable. Another very important tip is to avoid sharing your shoes with others.
- Wear socks made of cotton and other natural fibers as they absorb moisture. Change your socks twice or thrice a day if you engage in sports activities or experience excessive sweating.
- It is advisable to wash your socks in hot water in order to destroy fungal spores.
- Also remember to wash your hands properly after touching affected areas.
- It would also be a good idea to wash the tub or bathroom floor with an antiseptic cleaner after bathing.
- Never walk barefoot in public showers or common locker rooms. Always wear flip-flops.
In addition to these precautionary measures, you can also try using some home remedies to facilitate the action of medical treatment and hasten healing, or simply for some much needed relief. Keep in mind that most alternative treatments have not been backed by scientific studies and they cannot be relied on exclusively:
- Baking soda is a popular natural remedy for athletes foot. Sprinkle some baking soda onto your shoes to remove moisture.
- Cornstarch helps to get rid of moisture in the feet. It is better to lightly brown the cornstarch before using it, as this helps to remove any moisture that may be present in the cornstarch itself.
- Garlic has powerful anti-fungal properties. Rub the affected areas with fresh garlic juice daily. You can also add some olive oil to crushed garlic to make a thick paste. Apply this to the feet or toes and leave it on for 20 minutes. Then wash with soap and water, and dry properly. This treatment should be continued for some weeks to prevent the infection from returning.
- Yogurt which contains active bacterial cultures is thought to be effective in fighting fungal infections.
- Lime juice helps to restrict fungal infection and also prevents excessive sweating. Add lemon juice to water and use the solution to rinse the feet.
- Add a cup of vinegar to a cup of water and apply it to the feet using a cotton ball. You can also soak your feet in a solution of vinegar and warm water for 20 minutes a day. Cider vinegar is also helpful in treating athletes foot. Combine equal quantities of ethyl alcohol and cider vinegar and apply it to the affected areas.
- Tannic acid present in tea is believed to help restrict fungal activity and also dries out excess moisture from the feet. An effective foot soak for athletes foot can be made by steeping about 5 black tea bags to a quart of warm water. The inhibitory effect of tannins on fungi has been supported by research.
- A salt water foot soak is also helpful in the treatment of fungal infections on the feet.
- Add a few drops of margosa leaf oil to olive oil and apply to the foot.
- The following herbs are believed to believed to possess antifungal properties that could help in the treatment of fungal infections, but there is little consensus on the scope of their use, their efficacy and methods of application.
- Chamomile has antifungal properties and may be applied to the affected areas directly
- Tea tree oil is a traditional natural treatment for athletes foot. It is greatly helpful in curing fungal infections. You can dab some tea tree oil directly or diluted with water on the affected areas.
Diet for Athletes Foot
Your diet has little bearing on the outcome of a fungal infection like athletes foot, but it does have a direct influence on the health of your skin, and more importantly in the context of infections, on your immune system. Its important that you follow a healthy, balanced diet that includes foods from all the main food groups, so as to ensure that your body receives the optimum nutrition. Follow these diet tips to strengthen your body ability to fight infections such as athletes foot:
- Include fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet. Fruits that are rich in vitamin C are especially beneficial as they strengthen your immune system.
- Ensure an adequate supply of protein through foods such as lean chicken, turkey and dairy products. These help in regulating metabolism and also help in healing and tissue repair.
- Avoid eating too much sugar as this can interfere with healing. High levels of sugar can also encourage the growth of bacteria.
Suggestion for Athletes Foot
Athletes foot can usually be treated at home with over the counter applications. But it is important to see a doctor in case you notice any of the following signs and symptoms:
- Cracks in the skin between the toes. This may be indicative of another skin condition called cellulitis.
- Infection that does not respond to natural and over-the-counter treatments within a couple of weeks. This may be indicative of other diseases such a psoriasis or eczema.
- Infection that worsens even with treatment.
- Swelling of the feet
- Pus formation in the affected areas
- Spread of the infection to the hands
- Chung KT, Wong TY, Wei CI, Huang YW, Lin Y. Tannins and human health: a review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 1998 Aug;38(6):421-64. Review. PubMed PMID: 9759559.
- Magro A, Carolino M, Bastos M, Mexia A. Efficacy of plant extracts against stored-products fungi. Rev Iberoam Micol. 2006 Sep;23(3):176-8. PubMed PMID: 17196025.
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