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Athlete’s foot is a highly contagious fungal infection caused by dermatophytes that thrive in warm, humid, and communal spaces such as gym changing rooms, community swimming pools, and public washrooms.
You can easily contract this infection by walking barefoot on these breeding grounds.
Most cases of athlete’s foot do not cause significant trouble, besides the usual skin discomforts like itching, stinging, scaling, and swelling. But without proper treatment and care, you can end up with severe complications and a high risk of transmission.
Here are some remedies that you can try at home to speed up your recovery from an athlete’s foot.
1. Soak your feet in a green tea bath
Green tea is known to work as a natural astringent due to its tannic acid content, which may help keep the skin free of excess moisture and restrict the fungal activity.
A randomized controlled trial revealed the positive effect of bathing and cleaning with green tea on an athlete’s foot. (1)
- Steep five tea bags in 4 cups of boiling water for 5 minutes.
- Allow the water to cool.
- Soak your feet in the tea bath for half an hour.
- Dry your feet thoroughly.
- Repeat this process twice daily for 5–6 weeks.
The healing effect of green tea can be largely attributed to the astringent and growth inhibitory activities of its tannins and catechins. (1)
2. Treat your infected skin with tea tree oil
A dermatological review found tea tree oil exhibited some therapeutic effect on skin conditions. (2)
However, the findings also reveal that the oil at its original potency can be too harsh for the skin and can cause adverse skin reactions, especially in the case of an athlete’s foot when the skin is already quite sensitive and irritated. (2)
Also, although there is a lot of buzz about the skin-healing potential of tea tree oil, there aren’t enough studies to conclusively establish its effectiveness as a treatment for athlete’s foot.
- Wash your hands before and after the application.
- Mix tea tree oil with a carrier oil.
- Gently massage the oil mixture into the infected skin twice a day.
Note: Tea tree oil is not toxic by nature, but it can be too harsh for your skin when used at its original strength. Thus, it is extremely important to dilute the potency of this oil before using it topically.
Tea tree oil is credited with significant anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial potential that can help relieve the itching, swelling, stinging, and scaling associated with athlete’s foot, when used properly and regularly.
3. Soak your feet in a vinegar foot bath
The acidic nature of vinegar can lower the pH of the skin when applied topically, making it less habitable for the dermatophyte fungus responsible for athlete’s foot.
It is known to penetrate the cell membranes of microorganisms, suffocating them from within. Moreover, vinegar also works as a natural astringent that can suck the moisture from your skin to promote faster healing.
One review demonstrated that the antifungal and antimicrobial virtues of vinegar could be traced back to acetic acid, which is its main component. (3)
- Mix equal parts warm water and vinegar in a tub or bucket to make a therapeutic foot bath.
- Dip your feet in it for 10 minutes.
- After the soak, dry your feet thoroughly.
Note: Since vinegar can be quite acidic at high concentrations, it must always be diluted before application and not used extensively to avoid skin irritation or burns. (4)
The antifungal and antimicrobial properties of vinegar are promising for combating superficial infections such as athlete’s foot.
4. Use garlic as a topical healing agent
Garlic contains two major organosulfur compounds, namely, ajoene and allicin, which may exhibit some degree of antifungal activity against the dermatophytes responsible for athlete’s foot.
Garlic is considered to be at its potent best when raw. When crushed, it undergoes a chemical process that leads to the secretion of the antifungal compound allicin. (5)
Given the lack of research, the possibility of adverse side effects cannot be ruled out. In fact, there has been some incidence where the oral administration of garlic extracts resulted in the onset of contact dermatitis. (6)
- Crush 4–5 garlic cloves.
- Apply the crushed garlic directly to the infection site, twice a day.
Garlic exhibits an antifungal activity, which can be utilized for the treatment of a mild case of athlete’s foot. It can help promote recovery by weakening the pathogen responsible for the infection.
5. Apply a baking soda paste
Baking soda is another topical remedy for athlete’s foot that is popular among users but does not have substantial scientific backing.
It is suggested that baking soda can help fight the underlying fungal infection and relieve the associated bad smell, itchiness, and skin irritation. (7) It’s always better to consult your doctor about the proper usage before trying any new remedy.
- Mix a few drops of water in baking soda to make a thick paste.
- Apply the paste all over the infected skin for a few minutes.
- Once the paste dries, wash it off with plain water and let your feet air-dry.
6. Sprinkle some talcum powder on your feet
Talcum powder works as a gentle absorbent that soaks up all the water and sweat from your skin without irritating it further.
Moisture promotes the growth of fungal infections such as athlete’s foot, so it is important to keep your feet dry at all times, especially the gaps between your toes. Talcum powder can help in this regard.
Sprinkle any regular talcum powder or talc-containing foot powder all over your feet to keep them moisture-free. Do this after taking a shower, or every time you wash your feet.
7. Bathe your feet in diluted hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide can be used as a mild antiseptic to curb superficial skin infections such as athlete’s foot, but only in diluted quantities. (8)
- Mix a pint of hydrogen peroxide and a gallon of warm water.
- Dip your feet in the bath for about 30 minutes.
- Thoroughly dry your feet thereafter.
Note: Don’t use hydrogen peroxide if you have open wounds or ruptured skin on your feet, as it can sting a lot and possibly worsen your condition.
8. Make a foot soak with apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a mild acid with significant antifungal properties that can help disinfect your foot without irritating your skin if used correctly.
This remedy has yielded good results for general users but lacks scientific backing, so it’s recommended that you ask your doctor before trying it. (9)
- Mix equal amounts of ACV and water in a tub or bucket.
- Soak your feet in it for 15 minutes two times a day.
- Air-dry your feet after each soak so that there’s no moisture left on the infected skin.
9. Rub some neem oil
The potent antifungal properties of neem oil help in the treatment of athlete’s foot. (10) Also, its anti-inflammatory properties relieve the inflammation that is often associated with the condition. (11)
- Wash your hands.
- Gently rub 2–3 drops of neem oil onto the infection site.
- Leave it on for 15 to 20 minutes, and then wash it off with water.
- Apply this remedy once daily.
Self-Care Measures to Manage Athlete’s Foot
Here are a few things you can do at home to take care of your feet:
1. Keep your feet clean and dry
Keep your feet clean by washing them daily with antifungal soap and water. Then, air-dry them thoroughly before putting on socks or shoes.
Don’t miss the space between your toes and skin folds. Use a cotton or foam wedge to spread out your toes and ventilate the space between them. If you are in a hurry, you can use a clean foot towel to gently dab the skin dry.
You can also use dusting powder to readily absorb moisture. Be careful not to use too much as this can be irritating in between the toes.
2. Diabetics should be extra vigilant about foot problems
People with diabetes should take special care of their feet and go for regular podiatric checkups as they are especially prone to such foot infections.
3. Practice toenail hygiene
Clean and file your toenails regularly to prevent the occurrence of such infections.
4. Choose the right kind of footwear and socks
Avoid wearing ill-fitting shoes that squeeze your toes together, which leads to sweat buildup. Wear sandals, flip-flops, or other open footwear to avoid sweaty feet, especially during summer.
If you must wear shoes, opt for those that are light, airy, and made from natural materials with a wide and deep toe box that allows enough room for your toes to breathe. For trainers, choose the ones that have ventilation holes in them.
Avoid cotton and nylon socks, as they trap moisture close to the skin; acrylic is better.
5. Don’t scratch
No matter how intensely your foot itches, resist the urge to scratch it. Scratching the already damaged skin will further aggravate the condition and slow down recovery. Rinsing your feet with cool water is a better option to relieve the itch.
6. Use mild foot cleansers
If you suspect that your regular soap and shampoo are contributing to the skin irritation and damage caused by athlete’s foot, replace them with milder substitutes that are more skin-friendly.
7. Don’t give up on your foot hygiene as soon as the symptoms clear
The clearing of the athlete’s foot symptoms does not guarantee that the fungus has been eliminated.
Even though you may feel that you have fully recovered after several days or weeks of treatment, the fungus can still make a comeback when presented with an infection-conducive environment.
So, it is very important that you continue practicing the recommended foot hygiene regimen and shoe rotation for at least 2 weeks after the symptoms have disappeared.
How Can an Athlete’s Foot Be Prevented?
Podiatric hygiene is extremely essential for your overall health, but a lot of people fail to recognize its true importance until they are faced with problems such as athlete’s foot.
To save yourself the pain and discomfort that are characteristic of such conditions, it is best that you keep your feet in optimal condition.
You can minimize your risk of contracting the fungal infection responsible for athlete’s foot by adopting the following preventive measures:
- Never go barefoot into a public shower, bathroom, or other such common infection sites. Always wear shower shoes or flip-flops to avoid coming in direct contact with the possibly contaminated floors in such communal settings. If you have an infection yourself, protective footwear will prevent you from shedding your infected skin on the floor for others to pick up.
- If you are prone to excessive perspiration, dab some talcum powder on the problem areas to reduce the sweating. An antiperspirant may also be helpful. In the case of athlete’s foot, this applies to your feet, particularly the area between your toes.
- You can reduce your risk of developing an athlete’s foot by regularly changing your socks and shoes, especially if you perspire heavily. It is generally recommended to wear synthetic blend socks that tend to absorb moisture readily.
- If you have been wearing tightly strapped shoes on a stretch, it is recommended to either loosen your laces or open your shoes completely from time to time. This allows air to circulate within the confines of the shoes and dry out your sweaty feet.
- It is best to avoid wearing sharing footwear with other people, more so if you suspect that the other person has a foot infection or if you have one.
Most-Asked Questions About Athlete’s Foot
Does an athlete’s foot develop in people active in sports only?
No. Almost anyone can contract this infection, but athletes are certainly more prone to it for the simple reason that they are more physically active than the general population.
Can an athlete’s foot affect other parts of the body aside from the foot?
While it is true that the infection-causing fungus can get transferred to other areas of the body, the resulting infection is not referred to as athlete’s foot.
If you spread the fungus to your hands, the infection that grows on your hands is called tinea manuum.
In short, although all these varying infections of the different parts of the body are caused by the same fungi, they are considered as separate conditions with different names and mode of treatment.
If an athlete’s foot is not treated in due time, the symptomatic discomfort will worsen, and the fungus may spread to the nail bed and other areas of the body.
In some cases, an untreated athlete’s foot can give rise to a more serious bacterial infection that necessitates antibiotic treatment.
The only way to avoid such adverse outcomes is to address the condition at the earliest by doing the above-mentioned home remedies and/or applying the prescribed antifungal treatment.