Everything you need to know about treating the fungal infection athlete’s foot
Imagine this, you’re 75% of the way through your morning run when suddenly your feet start itching like crazy. It feels like a colony of ants has got into your socks and has started a spontaneous conga line between your toes.
When you get home, you take off your shoes to find that it was not an ant fiesta that was causing the trouble, but some kind of infection that is causing your skin to flake and rub raw.
For many people, this is an all too real experience caused by athlete’s foot – also known as tinea pedis.
Despite the popular belief, athlete’s foot is not caused by bad hygiene. Instead, there are a whole range of situations that can lead to the development of this infection. Around 15% of people in America will develop athlete’s foot at some point in their life.
The good news is that we know a lot about the tinea pedis infection, including how it is caused, how to prevent it, and how to treat it – both naturally and with medication.
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What Is Athlete’s Foot?
Athlete’s foot, also known as tinea pedis, is a fungal skin infection that thrives in warm, dark, and damp conditions. This infection most commonly develops between the toes of people who regularly exercise.
Athlete’s foot is a contagious fungal infection that most commonly develops on the foot. Heavy sweating and tight shoes during exercise are the most common cause of athlete’s foot. For this reason, it is mostly athletes who exercise outside that develop it – particularly athletes that spend a lot of time in the rain.
The warm, damp, and dark conditions of tight sneakers are the perfect breeding spot for the tinea pedis infection. Athlete’s foot is closely related to Jock Itch and Ringworm. Both of which sportsmen commonly suffer with.
The most common symptoms of athlete’s foot are itching and flaky skin that begins between the toes. The infection can spread over the whole foot. However, it can also manifest as blisters and ulcers, as well as red raw skin.
It is possible to treat athlete’s foot at home or with over-the-counter medication. Some people who are particularly vulnerable to reinfection may need to acquire prescription medication.
How Is Athlete’s Foot Spread?
You can develop athlete’s foot in two ways, naturally or you can catch it.
Yes, many people don’t realize this, but athlete’s foot is contagious. It can be a real problem for gyms and sports clubs if one of their members develops the infection, as it can quickly spread around the whole group.
Contact with another person – on the infected area of skin – can spread athlete’s foot. Athlete’s foot can also be spread through contact with materials and the infection can survive on damp surfaces in warm areas – including shoes, towels, and floors.
Let’s take a look at the two main causes of athlete’s foot.
Damp socks and shoes
The fungal infection tinea pedis most commonly develops on the feet of athlete’s, hence its more frequently used name, athlete’s foot.
The fungal infection spreads in warm and dark conditions that are damp. It is very common in people who run in the rain or wear sneakers that are too tight and don’t let the feet breathe.
The fungus can live in the material of the shoes and socks, as well as, on the feet of the sufferer.
The infection will continue to spread until it is treated. Untreated tinea pedis can infect all the skin on the foot, hands, crotch, and lower leg.
Athlete’s foot is contagious
It is also possible to catch athlete’s foot from someone else.
The fungus can survive on fabric as well as on wet and warm surfaces. It is most frequently spread via gym floors and showers. Particularly, when people are walking around barefoot in these areas.
It can also be spread through the sharing of towels, shoes, and socks. Places like Bowling Alleys that lend out shoes can be hotbeds for athlete’s foot. This is why you will see many Bowling Alleys using sterilizing spray on their shoes before and after lending them out to customers.
Symptoms Of Athlete’s Foot
- Dry, flaking skin and scaling
- Inflammation and pain
- Unpleasant smell
Athlete’s foot is fairly easy to recognize. It traditionally has two common symptoms – itchy toes and dry, flaky skin. We will discuss these two symptoms in greater detail later in this section.
There are a few other symptoms of athlete’s foot that it is worth being aware of. The infection can also appear on your hands if you wear gloves a lot or scratch the infection too frequently. Nail infections can also be developed from athlete’s foot.
Some people experience scaly skin on the soles of their feet as part of the infection. While other people notice a soft white film spreading across their skin. Athlete’s foot can also appear as blisters or ulcers around the toes and heel.
Athlete’s foot is a lot more common in men than women. Men should be particularly careful when touching the infected areas, as they can pass it on to their groin area (this is typically known as Jock Itch).
The first thing you will notice with athlete’s foot is the itching. This will usually start around the toes, as this is where the infection most commonly begins.
The itching is usually at its most intense just after shoes and socks have been removed. The sweat evaporating from the skin can irritate the infected parts of the foot.
When your toes begin to itch you may notice a red, scaly rash around and between your toes. It may feel hot to touch and will definitely be itchy.
Skin is flaky, dry, and cracking
As the infection develops, your skin will start to become hot and flaky. You may notice a white tinge to your skin or a film-like white layer growing over the itchiest parts of your feet.
After a while, this skin will become incredibly dry and fragile. It may start to crack when you itch it or even when you move. Any liquid that gets into these cracks will only aggravate them more.
Ways To Treat Athlete’s Foot
There are many different methods that can be used to treat athlete’s foot. The most popular way is with over-the-counter medication. These are the perfect way to treat minor cases – particularly if you have caught the infection from someone else.
You can get these by walking into any pharmacy. Talking to someone at the counter is a good way to find exactly what you need. However, for mild cases, a treatment from the shelf may be more than enough.
If you have used an over-the-counter medication multiple times and the infection keeps coming back then you may want to look into getting a prescription and talking to your doctor about the situation.
There are many different forms of over-the-counter treatments. They typically come in three formats – a spray, a powder, or an oil.
The format of treatment you will want to use will depend on your personal preferences. There is no evidence to suggest that one format is more effective than another.
These treatments should not be used for any longer than the packaging recommends.
There are, however, three ingredients you should be looking for in an over-the-counter treatment. They are:
- Terbinafine – a synthetic allylamine, is a strong fungicide. Children and pregnant women should avoid this ingredient. When applied to the fungus, Terbinafine causes the fungus to stop producing key nutrients and produce excess squalene instead. This eventually kills the fungus.
- Imidazoles – another type of fungicide that can be used to treat athlete’s foot. There is much debate about whether a particular type of Imidazole is more effective than another. There is no conclusive evidence to suggest that any Imidazole is more effective than another brand.
- Tea tree oil – a type of oil derived from the Tea Tree (native to Australia). This oil is known for its strong smell and antiseptic powers. It is a natural fungicide and is also used to treat other skin conditions like fungal acne and psoriasis. The downside of using Tea Tree oil is that it can irritate the skin and cause a menthol-like cooling/burning sensation. When introduced into broken skin, Tea Tree oil can cause a lot of pain.
If you are looking for a simpler way to treat your athlete’s foot then you should try the proven fungus killer Hydrogen Peroxide.
Hydrogen Peroxide attacksaAthlete’s foot in two ways.
Firstly, it fights the symptoms. The Peroxide will kill any of the fungi that are living on the surface of your feet. It will also kill any of the infection that has got into your open wounds.
Secondly, it kills off any of the bacteria that are living on the surface of your skin. In particular, any of the bacteria that is causing the fungal infection to develop.
Hydrogen Peroxide can be bought from pharmacists in an opaque plastic bottle. To use it to treat athlete’s foot you will need to pour it directly onto your skin.
This will sting, but the stinging is a good sign that the Peroxide is doing its job. You will also want to watch the liquid and make sure that it starts bubbling once it touches your skin. This is another sign that the treatment is working. You should expect to see extra bubbling if you have any open wounds on your feet.
You should do this twice a day until the infection goes away.
If the infection is causing a large amount of swelling and inflammation on your feet then your pharmacist might recommend that you use a Hydrocortisone treatment.
This is a type of antibiotic that also helps to relieve itching and reduce inflammation. It is not a fungicide, so it will not kill the infection. It must be used in conjunction with another treatment. It will help to relieve a lot of the symptoms of athlete’s foot.
Hydrocortisone can be applied up to three times a day, depending on its formulation.
We understand that over-the-counter treatments are not something that everyone agrees with or can use. So, we have also put together a list of effective home remedies that can be used to treat athlete’s foot.
Below, you will find 11 different home remedies that will help you to get rid of athlete’s foot. Most people find that a combination of a few of the below has helped them. You may need to use a few different methods if your infection is far along.
Wash feet often with soap and water
The first tip is to start washing your feet with soap and warm water multiple times a day. We recommend washing your feet before you start exercising and after you have finished exercising.
You should get yourself a bar (or bottle) of antifungal soap.
When you are washing your feet, you should be paying the most attention to in between your toes. This is the part of your feet that is most vulnerable to fungal infections.
The most important part of this tip is to dry your feet thoroughly after washing them. You should use paper towels to dry your feet or wash any towel you use straight away.
Soak feet in salt water or diluted vinegar
While you can buy ready-made salt foot soaks, it is best to make your own. This will allow you to make sure that there are no other ingredients in it that might aggravate the infection.
You should not soak your feet in undiluted vinegar as it can irritate or damage your skin.
Using either of these foot soaks will sting a little but this is a just sign that the soak is walking.
Use tea tree or neem oil
We briefly talked about Tea Tree oil above. Neem oil has a lot of similar properties to Tea Tree oil, but it is harder to get hold of.
When using both of these oils, you will want to avoid applying them to skin that is too irritated or skin that is broken – as this can cause a lot of pain. You will also want to avoid adding too much oil as this can make your feet sweat more.
Rubbing Alcohol can be used in a similar way to Vinegar – as they are both mild acids. Rubbing Alcohol is milder than Vinegar, so it can be applied directly onto the skin.
If you want to use Rubbing Alcohol to treat athlete’s foot then you should pour it directly onto the skin, like you would with Hydrogen Peroxide. Again, this will sting, especially if any of your skin is broken.
However, Rubbing Alcohol is a very effective antibacterial treatment and has been used to clean wounds and prevent infection all over the world.
One study found that nearly 80% of people could get rid of athlete’s foot by doing nothing but rubbing garlic on their feet. That’s unbelievably effective for a natural treatment.
Obviously, the one downside of using garlic to treat athlete’s foot is the smell. However, if this is something you can get past (or mask, for the sake of the people you live with) then there is a good chance it will get rid of your infection in under a week.
Garlic is also an extremely low-cost solution, especially when you compare it to over-the-counter treatments.
Sea salt baths
This is the same concept as making yourself a salt foot soak.
Salt, sea salt, in particular, has an impressive array of antimicrobial and antifungal properties. It is also an antiseptic. Adding two cups of sea salt to your bath can be an effective way to treat athlete’s foot.
You may also be interested in using a mixture of salt and vinegar to treat the infection. You can mix 1 part vinegar with 3 parts sea salt to create a paste. Apply the paste to your feet for 20 minutes twice a day until the infection disappears.
You should not use salt to scrub your feet while you have athlete’s foot.
Cornstarch and baby powder are great alternatives to Talcum powder if you cannot get your hands on them.
Talcum powder is used by boxers inside their gloves to prevent a build-up of sweat and bacteria. You can use it, in the same way, to help prevent and treat athlete’s foot.
After you have washed and dried your feet, cover them in a light layer of Talcum powder before putting your cotton socks on.
This layer of powder is not only antifungal but it will also help to keep your feet dry and sweat free.
Many people don’t know that green tea can be used topically as an antifungal treatment. It can also be drunk to help reduce inflammation and soothe irritable skin.
There are two ways to topically apply green tea. You can use a small amount of vinegar mixed in with powdered green tea as a paste. Or you can take a tea bath.
To make a tea bath, you should use between 7-10 green tea bags in your bath. Make sure not to run a bath that is too hot. You may find it beneficial to combine your sea salt bath and your tea bath.
Make sure feet are completely dry after washing
We have mentioned this before, but we will mention it again because if you don’t do this then you won’t be able to get rid of your athlete’s foot.
The bacteria that cause the fungal infection thrive in warm and damp conditions. This means that if you leave moisture on your feet after washing them then you are making it easier for the bacteria to spread.
You should be using disposable paper towels/cotton buds to dry your feet. Or you should be using a towel and then washing it straight away. The infection can live on any material and reinfect you or be passed on to someone else.
Wear clean cotton socks
Cotton socks are recommended over polystyrene or any other type of plastic based socks because they allow your feet to breathe. This prevents a build-up of sweat and bacteria between your toes. Which in turn, can cause athlete’s foot.
Cotton is worn all over the world, but it is most popular in hot countries because of its breathability. Most bandages are also made from cotton, for this reason, preventing a build-up of sweat can stop the development of many different kinds of infection.
Keep feet dry
While you have athlete’s foot you should try to avoid getting your feet wet, unless you are washing them. Not washing your feet will only make the situation worse.
However, you should avoid letting your feet get wet in the rain, or too sweaty. You may find that it is worth taking a week away from outside exercises to prevent the infection from getting any worse.
You may find that changing to shoes that aren’t so tight and allow your feet to breathe while you exercise will also help. Cotton sneakers are a good idea – particularly for long distance runners.
How To Prevent Athlete’s Foot
The most frustrating thing about athlete’s foot is that it is likely to return if you haven’t made any changes to your foot care routine. Even after a month of treatment.
Without sitting down and examining how you look after your feet, it can be hard to tell why the infection keeps coming back. There are small changes you can make to stop this from happening.
The tips below will help you to keep the infection at bay and help you to stop it from coming back altogether.
Remove shoes after exercising
One of the best things you can do to prevent athlete’s foot is to remove your shoes after you have exercised. It can be tempting to wear these shoes home from the gym. But the more time you spend in the shoes, the more time you are giving the bacteria time to breed.
You should consider only wearing these shoes while you are exercising and having a second pair of sneakers to run errands in if you need to.
Once you have finished exercising you should take off your shoes and try to wash your feet. If you cannot wash your feet at the gym then you should wipe them down with an antibacterial wipe and properly clean them when you get home.
Remember to change your socks when you change your shoes.
Wash feet with soap and water twice a day
Yes, we did mention this as a way to treat athlete’s foot. But if you are someone who exercises every day, then it is important that you continue to do this after the infection is gone.
Again, we recommend using a bar of antifungal soap. It is also still really important that you completely dry your feet after washing them.
It is best to wash your feet as soon as you finish exercising and when you wake up in the morning. We tend to sweat overnight and this can cause bacteria to build up while we are sleeping.
Only wear clean socks
There is an old saying – ‘common sense is not always common action’.
Changing your socks every day is a piece of advice that falls into this category.
You should put on a clean pair of socks every time you exercise and another clean pair of socks after you have exercised (after you have done your post-exercise foot wash).
Why is this important?
Well, unfortunately, athlete’s foot can survive in our socks. This means that if you put on a sock that had previously been exposed to the infection, you could develop the infection again via this sock.
A clean set of socks every morning and every time you exercise will help to prevent reinfection.
Wash your shoes if you spot signs of infection
When they first get athlete’s foot, most people wash all their socks (at least once). However, many people neglect their shoes. This can be a huge mistake. Both the bacteria that cause athlete’s foot and the fungus itself survive in the fabric of shoes as well as socks.
If you regularly exercise then you should either wash your shoes every couple of weeks or get an antifungal spray to keep them clean.
You should also consider swapping to shoes made of cotton and avoid shoes that are too tight in the toe area.
Do not share footwear
Again, this is another piece of common sense advice that lots of people forget about.
Do not share shoes with people. Do not share socks with other people. Do not lend other people your shoes.
You should also consider wearing protective footwear in places where you might come into contact with other people’s feet. For example, the shower at the gym.
Wash towels regularly
Finally, you should be washing your towels regularly.
While you have athlete’s foot, you should be washing your towels every time you use them. This will prevent you from reinfecting yourself, infecting a different part of your body, or infecting someone else.
Once you have got rid of the infection you do not need to wash your towels so frequently. However, you should be washing them at least twice a week.
You should also avoid sharing towels with other members of your household or anyone else you know. Bathrooms tend to be warm and damp, they are the perfect place for infections to spread.
Tips To Remember!
Before we go, we just want to remind you that you should see a doctor if the infection does not go away after you have tried treat it.
Visit a doctor if the athlete’s foot hasn’t subsided
You should allow 1-2 weeks for over-the-counter treatments to become effective. You should allow up to a month for home remedies to cure your infection.
If the infection has not subsided after this amount of time then you should go and see a doctor.
You should also go see a doctor if your foot becomes swollen or if it starts to hurt because of the broken skin. Too much broken skin can make your feet vulnerable to more aggressive infections that may cause long term damage.
If your feet are swollen then your doctor may prescribe you Hydrocortisone to help with the inflammation.
If you have used any of the above treatments and the infection has not gone away, then your doctor may prescribe you a stronger antifungal treatment to put on your feet.
Visit a podiatrist if infection keeps coming back
If your infection returns multiple times then you may want to go and see a podiatrist. They will be able to help you examine your foot health and your foot care techniques to pinpoint what is causing the infection to return.
They may advise you to get new shoes and socks. They change your antifungal prescription. They tell you to wear sandals or foot covers in the gym changing room.
Using this advice you can change your routine to permanently get athlete’s foot out of your life.
athlete’s foot is a fungal infection that will affect 15% of us throughout our lifetimes. However, it is something that can easily be treated using medication and at-home remedies.
To prevent developing athlete’s foot you should wash your feet regularly and take off your shoes after you have finished exercising. You should also make sure you don’t share towels or footwear with anyone else.
By following the tips in this article, you will be able to live a life free of itchy toes.