How to get rid of Athlete's foot

Reader's Digest Editors 30 October 2013

If you're suffering from the fungal infection known as athlete's foot, try these athlete's foot treatment tips, from creams to salt baths and essential oils

Athlete’s foot is caused by a fungus called tinea pedis, which creates unpleasant symptoms such as itchy, flaking skin.

You can treat athlete's foot at home with antifungal creams—ordinarily prescribed by your GP—as well as some basic home remedies. Applying tea tree oil, bicarbonate of soda, or even tea can help clear up the fungus. See what works for you below. 

What cream to use for Athlete's foot

When you look for an over-the-counter remedy, check out antifungal creams and ointments that contain miconazole or clotrimazole, such as Canesten or Daktarin.

Massage a small amount into the affected area two or three times a day.

Don't stop using the cream when your symptoms subside. Keep using it for at least two weeks after the problem appears to have cleared up in order to eradicate the fungus permanently.

Home remedies for Athlete's foot

  • Add water to one tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda to make a paste, which research has shown to have antifungal properties. Rub in the paste, rinse and thoroughly dry your feet, then finish off with a dusting of talcum powder (don't forget in between the toes).
     
  • For a soothing foot soak, add two teaspoons of salt to 500ml of warm water. Soak your feet for five to ten minutes. Repeat this soak at frequent intervals until your feet have completely healed and the skin is no longer peeling.
     
  • Alternatively, add a few drops of mustard oil or a sprinkling of mustard powder to a footbath. Mustard will help to kill the fungus. Soak your feet in the bath for up to half an hour.
     
  • Ordinary tea contains tannic acid, which is a natural astringent that works wonderfully to dry out sweaty feet. Steep five tea bags (any variety will do, though not herbal) in a litre of boiling water for five minutes. Leave to cool to lukewarm, then soak your feet in the tea bath for 30 minutes.
     
  • Other home remedies that athlete's foot sufferers have experimented with and swear by include applying either surgical spirit, apple cider vinegar, garlic powder, hair spray or raw honey to the affected area three or four times a day.
     
  • Plain yoghurt, which contains live acidophilus bacteria, also helps to keep fungal infections in check. Simply dab the yoghurt on the infected areas, allow to dry and rinse off. (But don't use flavoured yoghurts!)
     
  • Some people even claim that they've used their own saliva to cure athlete's foot. Studies in animals suggest they are right—when the salivary glands of rats were removed, their wounds healed more slowly. Human saliva contains substances called histatins, shown to have antifungal activity. (But maybe raid the kitchen cupboards first…)
     
  • A further tip to speed up healing is simply to take your shoes off whenever possible (but do not go barefoot in shared spaces, especially on wet floors where you risk passing on the infection). Wear flip-flops around public pools.

Herbal remedies for Athlete’s foot

  • The oil of the Australian tea-tree is a potent antiseptic. For a soothing, healing treatment, mix equal parts tea-tree oil with olive oil and rub the combined oils into the affected area twice a day. Olive oil helps to tenderise skin toughened by athlete's foot so that tea-tree oil is better absorbed.
     
  • Alternatively, mix tea-tree oil with aloe gel, another skin softener. Mix three parts tea-tree oil to one part aloe gel and rub the resulting ointment into the infected area twice a day. Allow six to eight weeks for this treatment to work.
     
  • Heavenly scented lavender also has antifungal properties. Make a massage oil by adding three drops of lavender oil to one teaspoon of a suitable carrier oil (any vegetable oil will do), and rub into the infected area every day.
     
  • Calendula has been valued for centuries as a topical treatment for wounds and skin conditions, due to its antifungal and anti-inflammatory powers. Rub calendula ointment, available from pharmacies and health food shops, on the affected areas, especially between your toes.

How to treat severe Athlete’s foot

Give home treatments at least three weeks to work. If your symptoms are severe, however, see your doctor. Left untreated, a fungal infection can cause the skin to crack, which allows infection-causing bacteria to gain entry. 

You should also see your doctor as soon as possible if you see signs of a more serious infection, such as skin that is angry, red and tender to the touch or oozing.

Other warning signals are swelling of the foot or leg accompanied by a fever, or red streaks radiating from the infected area.

How to prevent Athlete's foot's spread to the groin

The tinea fungus that causes athlete's foot can also cause uncomfortable itching in the groin region—often called "jock itch". So when you have athlete's foot, be careful not to infect your groin area.

Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after touching your feet. And don't pull your underwear on over your bare feet. Put your socks on first.

If you wear tights, put on a pair of socks, then your undies, take the socks off and then put on your tights.

Read more: How to prevent athlete's foot

Read more: Smelly feet: Causes, remedies and cures

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