ATHLETE’S FOOT: PREVENTION AND REMEDIES
Athlete’s foot, or tinea pedis is a fungal infection of the top layers of the skin. The species of fungi infecting the skin go by the collective name of dermatophytes. Like most fungi, these thrive in damp, warm places. Other vulnerable areas are the groin (jock itch, or tinea cruris), and the head (ringworm, or tinea capitis).
The fungi that cause athlete’s foot can also infect the nails. Usually trauma (a nick in the nail or crush injury) occurs, giving the fungi an entry point. The nail yellows and thickens. Diagnosis is usually made by inspection, plus or minus microscopic examination of scrapings from under the nail. These infections are contagious.
The sign of athlete’s foot is red, flaky, itchy skin on the soles and heels. The toe webs may be involved. The skin may also blister and crack. The main treatment for fungal skin infections is application of an over-the-counter antifungal cream, such as miconazole or clotrimazole. It can take up to a month for skin to heal. Fungal nail infections, however, are more difficult to clear.
HISTORY: Australian Aborigines had long knowledge of Tea tree oil as good for treating a number of ills, including athlete’s foot and other fungal and skin infections. It is found that a relatively strong solution of tea tree oil inhibits the fungi that cause athlete’s foot.
TEA FOR TWO FEET
1 tablespoon (15 ml) unscented body lotion
1 teaspoon (5 ml) tea tree oil
Preparation and Use: Blend the lotion and tea tree oil in a small, clean jar or bowl. Apply to affected areas on the feet. Wash your hands afterward. Tea tree oil can be powerful stuff, so take care in mixing and applying this remedy as noted below. It is found that creams containing between 10 and 50 percent tea tree oil help resolve athlete’s foot.
Warning: Keep your bottle of tea tree oil out of the reach of children. Internal use can be toxic. If you are allergic to Tea tree oil, stop using it.
THYME AND OREGANO FOOTBATH
1 quart (946 ml) water
2 tablespoons (5 g) dried thyme leaves
2 tablespoons (6 g) dried oregano leaves
¼ cup (72 g) salt
Preparation and use: Boil the water in a saucepan. Turn off the heat, add the herbs, cover, and steep for 20 minutes. Stir in the salt. Reheat over low heat until the water feels warm but not scalding. Strain into a basin big enough for your feet. Soak your feet for 15 to 20 minutes until the water is no longer warm. Dry your feet, including between your toes, with a clean towel. Then put the towel in the laundry to wash (do not reuse without laundering). While it fights athlete’s foot, this footbath delivers delicious relaxation. In order from highest to lowest fungicidal activity were oregano, thyme, cinnamon, lemongrass, clove, palmarosa, peppermint, lavender, geranium, and tea tree. Adding salt and heat to the essential oil solution amplified the fungicidal power.
Note: Alternatively, you can put hot-to-tolerance water and salt in the foot basin. Stir in 5 drops of essential oil of oregano. You can use thyme essential oil instead, but only if you select the linalool type. The others are irritating to skin and mucous membranes. Other alternatives include peppermint and lavender oil.
FOOT-FRIENDLY VINEGAR TINCTURE
¼ cup (60 ml) white, distilled, or apple cider vinegar
5 drops tea tree essential oil
5 drops peppermint essential oil
2 to 3 drops eucalyptus essential oil
Preparation and use: Combine all the ingredients in a jar and shake. Soak cotton balls in the mixture and apply, covering the affected area. If you have any solution left over, cap the jar tightly to prevent the evaporation of the plant essential oils. Vinegar contains acetic acid, which discourages fungal growth. Consistent application has often been met with success in clearing up fungal infection. It may take several weeks, even months, but many people swear by it. Adding the plant essential oils, all of which have direct antifungal activity, may accelerate the process.
• Pour enough vinegar into a small tub to immerse your toes or feet. Mix in the essential oils above. Soak for 2 minutes. Then rinse your toes and dry thoroughly with a clean towel. (Do not reuse the towel without laundering it.) Apply twice daily until the itch disappears. Then continue application for one additional week.
• Because vinegar is acidic, it may irritate the skin. In that case, dilute the vinegar, using one part vinegar to three parts water. Mix in the essential oils. Soak for 15 minutes three times a week. When finished, rinse and dry as above.
• Some people are also sensitive to plant essential oils. If you have sensitive skin, try the vinegar or diluted vinegar solution alone. If you have no reaction, try one essential oil at a time. Don’t combine the three until you know your skin can tolerate it.
GARLIC FUNGAL CHASER
1 garlic clove
1 to 2 teaspoons (5 to 10 ml) olive oil
Preparation and Use: Mash the garlic and olive oil together into a paste. Apply to the infected area. Remove after 1 hour. Garlic is a microbe-slayer. Its action includes antifungal power. Two studies have shown that ajoene, a compound found in garlic, heals athlete’s foot.
Warning: Don’t use the garlic alone, as this strong herb can irritate the skin. The olive oil creates a protective coating. Most people can tolerate 1 hour. Remove sooner if you have sensitive skin or the application causes discomfort. Be sure to test this strong antidote on a patch of skin before covering your feet with it.
Note: The antimicrobial chemicals in garlic contain sulphur. Some of them absorb across your skin, into the bloodstream, and across the air sacs in your lungs. If you dislike that smell (or others do), chew parsley leaves or fennel seeds.
PROBIOTIC FOOT FIX
2 to 3 tablespoons (30 to 45 g) plain yogurt (Make sure it has live cultures of acidophilus.)
Preparation and Use: Apply to the infected areas—toe webs, heels, and so on—for 15 to 20 minutes. Rinse off and dry feet thoroughly before putting on socks and shoes. Yogurt’s live ingredient, acidophilus, makes lactic acid, which helps fight fungus. Daily application can soothe and help heal the infected area.
CLOVE AND CINNAMON SOOTHER
¼ teaspoon cinnamon or clove essential oil
2½ teaspoons (13 ml) olive oil
Preparation and use: Mix together the essential oil and olive oil. Test a little on a patch of skin before doing full-blown foot therapy. The essential oil versions of these holiday spices are helpful healers when diluted in a soothing olive oil mixture and applied to your feet.
TEA BAGS FOR HAPPY TOES
1 quart (946 ml) water
6 black tea bags
Preparation and Use: Boil the water and steep the tea bags in it. Pour the water and tea bags into a small tub. When tea has cooled enough to be comfortable, immerse your feet. Soak for 15 to 20 minutes. Rinse your feet after soaking and dry thoroughly before putting on your socks. Black tea contains tannic acid, which is antifungal. Use this quick and easy treatment to soothe athlete’s foot burn and boost the healing process.
CORN-STARCH ~ DRY FEET
½ cup (64 g) corn-starch
Preparation and Use: Preheat the oven to 325°F (170°C, or gas mark 3). Spread the corn-starch across the bottom of a clean glass baking dish. Bake for 3 to 5 minutes until just browned on top. Remove from the oven and let cool. Rub onto affected areas before putting on your socks and shoes. Corn-starch absorbs foot moisture that can help launch fungal infections. Corn-starch right from the box is a good start; but a quick browning in the oven removes its moisture, allowing it to take in more moisture from your feet. You’ll love the drying effect of this starchy flour made from corn. Note: Shake a teaspoon (3 g) of the toasted corn-starch into your shoes to coat the insides—another way to absorb moisture.
COCONUT FUNGAL FIGHTER
¼ cup (56 g) coconut oil
1 teaspoon (2 g) ground turmeric
Preparation and Use: Over low heat, melt the oil in a pan. It happens in a matter of seconds. Whisk in the turmeric. Turn off the heat. Pour the mixture into a clean dish. When cool, spread on the affected area. Allow to soak in for 15 to 20 minutes. Rinse off and dry the area thoroughly. Virgin coconut oil is a African folk remedy for treating such fungal skin infections as athlete’s foot and ringworm, has antifungal properties. Likewise, turmeric is an antifungal agent.
VICKS-EN TOENAIL TREATMENT
Preparation and Use: In the evening, shower and wash your toes carefully or soak and wash your toes in a small tub of warm water. Dry them thoroughly with a clean towel (launder the towel after each use). Wet a cotton ball with hydrogen peroxide and apply to each toenail, using a fresh cotton ball for each nail so as not to spread infection. Let your toes air dry or pat them dry after the peroxide foaming subsides. Make sure they are thoroughly dry, and then coat each toenail with Vicks. Cover your feet with cotton socks (which you must wash after wearing); this keeps the Vicks working on your toes and off your sheets. Hydrogen peroxide is antifungal. Vicks VapoRub contains essential oils from plants with antifungal activity, specifically thymol from thyme, menthol from peppermint, eucalyptol from eucalyptus, and camphor from a relative of cinnamon (Cinnamomum camphora).
To prevent athlete’s foot, practice good hygiene:
• Keep your feet dry. If your feet sweat, change your socks. Put talcum powder or corn-starch in your shoes.
• Wear socks that absorb and wick away moisture. Although many doctors recommend cotton, a good alternative is wool, which you can now find in all styles and thicknesses.
• In hot weather, wear sandals or other shoes with good ventilation.
• Air out shoes after each use.
• Don’t share socks, shoes, towels, or nail clippers with someone with athlete’s foot or a fungal nail infection.
• Sprinkle baking soda in your shoes to absorb moisture. Your feet will stay drier longer. Like corn-starch, baking soda will absorb sweat and hinder the fungi that thrive in damp conditions.
• Eat garlic. To complement the garlic salve recipe for the outside of your feet, try this simple treatment to attack from the inside, too: Mince one to two garlic cloves and stir into your food, whether eggs, rice, soups, or mashed potatoes. Or pop a 500 to 600 milligram capsule of garlic each day.
WHEN SIMPLE DOESN’T WORK
• A traditional Mexican treatment for athlete’s foot involves the topical use of a plant called Ageratina pichinchensis (commonly known as snakeroot and previous classified as Eupatorium pichinchense or E. aschenbornianum). Studies have shown that topical applications of a special extract from this plant worked as well as the antifungal drug ketoconazole. Extracts have also been shown to be therapeutic in fungal nail infections.
• If home remedies aren’t working for you, you can try antifungal creams available over the counter at drugstores and supermarkets: terbinafine (Lamisil AT), tolnaftate (Tinactin), clotrimazole (Lotrimin AF), and miconazole (Micatin).
WHEN TO CALL THE DOCTOR
• You can’t clear the infection after two weeks of using home remedies or over the counter antifungal creams. It may be time to try a prescription antifungal medication.
• The fungal infection is spreading.
• The soles of your feet begin to blister.
• Your skin becomes cracked, reddened, swollen, and painful.
• You see pus or red streaks extending from the infected area.
• You develop a fever.
• You have diabetes and have any sign of infection on your feet.