The most common fungal infection of the skin, athlete's foot typically begins between the toes, causing itching, scaling and sometimes painful breaks in the skin. This generally harmless but extremely uncomfortable condition can be relieved by using various natural remedies.
What is it?
'Athlete's foot' is the common term for a fungal infection called tinea pedis. The fungi that cause it are tiny, plant-like cells found on the skin of all humans. They can multiply out of control under certain conditions. They thrive in cramped, dark places, such as inside shoes and socks. In some people, athlete's foot occurs entirely between the toes, where the skin cracks, peels and breaks down. In others, the infection appears on the soles and sides of the feet or affects the toenails.
What causes it?
The most common fungi responsible for athlete's goot are called Trichophytons. Although poorly ventilated shoes and sweaty sock provide an excellent breeding fround for the fungi, athlete's foot is not highly contagious, so walking barefoot in a changeroom does not increase your risk.
What are the symptoms?
- Scaling and peeling between the toes. In severe cases, there may be cracks between the toes.
- Redness, itching, scaling, and tiny blisters along the sides and soles of the feet.
- Soft and painful skin.
- Infected toenails that can become thickened, discoloured or crumbly.
Are there any natural therapies?
Many doctors prescribe conventional antifungal medications for persistent cases of athlete's foot. These drugs can be very effective – and quick costly. For milder cases, supplements can be an inexpensive way to combat the infection; symptoms should begin to clear up within a week.
Vitamin C, an antioxidant, promotes immune function and helps the body to fight fungal infections. Tea tree oil is a powerful natural antifungal agent that alters the chemical environment of the skin, making it inhospitable to fungal frowth. Effective topcial preparations include creams or lotions containing tea tree oil; look for products that contain tea tree oil as one of the top ingredients, or make your own by adding two parts of tea tree oil to three parts of a neutral oil, such as almond oil. For an antifungal foot bath, add 20 drops of tea tree oil to a small tub of warm water; soak your feet in this mixture for 15 minutes two or three times a day. Dry your feet well and dab a few drops of undiluted tea tree oil onto the affected areas. If pure tea tree oil irritates your skin, use one of the topical preparations described below.
Try rubbing garlic oil directly onto the affected areas. Garlic contains a natural fungus-fighting substance that can help to clear up athlete's foot. Another way of using garlic to treat athlete's foot is to dust your feet with garlic powder. Finally, calendula is another useful option. Derived from a golden, daisy-like flower, and widely available in health-food stores, this herb relieves inflammation and soothes the skin, which promotes healing.
What else can I do?
- Keep your feet clean and dry. With a hair dryer set on low, dry your feet. If you prefer to use a towel, wash it after each use.
- Wear clean, dry socks. Air you shoes after each use, and don't wear the same pair every day.
- Go barefoot when you can, or opt for sandals or other well-ventilated shoes that allow your feet to breathe.
- Try over-the-counter antifungal lotions and powders; but avoid those that contain cornflour, which can encourage fungal growth.
- Cut your toenails straight across to help prevent fungal infection.
Did you know?
Athlete's foot doesn't often occur in children younger than 12. If a child shows symptoms similar to those of athlete's foot, it's probably another skin condition, and you may need to consult a paediatrician about it.