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Help! I’ve Got Athlete’s Foot

Treating a Common Fungal Infection

Athlete's foot (medically known as tinea pedis) is a common fungal infection that usually begins between the toes. It often occurs in people whose feet have become very sweaty while confined within tight fitting shoes. Athlete's foot is highly contagious and can be easily spread via contaminated floors, towels or clothing. It is estimated that around 70% of people will develop athlete’s foot at least once.

The name originates because the condition is often transferred if people share the same flooring with others when they are all in bare feet. This usually happens in changing room conditions and around pools. So, athletes (and anyone else who is barefoot around others) are prone to get the infection and to pass it on to colleagues.

Athlete's foot is closely related to other fungal infections such as ringworm and jock itch. Most people treat it with antifungal drugs, but when using them, the infection usually comes back.

Athlete’s foot can happen on one or both feet. Symptoms include: Itchy, scaly, burning red rash between your toes; Small, red blisters (on your soles or between your toes); Dryness and scaling on the soles and up the sides of your foot; Ulcers or sores that leak fluid, smell bad, and look red.

Ideally you won’t get the infection in the first place. First off ensure the conditions don’t allow the infection to thrive. Don't go barefoot in public areas such as the pool, nail salon, spa or gym where many others are also barefoot.  Always wash and dry your feet (including between every toe) every morning and evening, change socks or stockings often (at minimum daily). Don't wear the same shoes day after day without allowing them enough time to completely dry before wearing them again. Never share shoes, socks, or towels. Make sure your feet always get plenty of fresh air to keep them dry. When wearing socks, wear wick away synthetic socks. Cotton and wool can trap moisture and promote fungal growth. When choosing shoes, pick ones that allow your feet to breathe.

No matter which foot (or even if both feet) becomes infected, or where on the feet the infection sprouts, you should treat immediately to avoid the infection getting worse or spreading.  If not treated properly and promptly, athlete's foot can be very stubborn. Even when treated properly, the infection can linger and take several weeks to disappear and may come back after treatment. Do not tear or scrape off flaking skin; you may break nearby healthy skin, spreading the infection and making the problem worse.

Cinnamon: Soak your feet in warm cinnamon water. It’s easy – boil water and add a few cinnamon sticks. Let the water cool down enough so it doesn’t burn. This allows time for the water to be infused with the cinnamon. Soak your feet in it for a few minutes every night. It won’t just help combat the infection; it smells great and can help you relax.

Powder: It’s hard to prevent moisture from forming around your toes when you’re wearing shoes all day. To prevent this from happening, sprinkle powder in your shoes and in the gaps between your toes. Many powders work to absorb moisture (and also prevent foot odor). Baking soda and cornstarch are two readily available options.

Moisturize: Athlete’s foot can cause extreme dryness and flaky skin on your feet. Moisturizers, vitamin E oil, baby oil and others can work wonders for this. Clean your feet and apply moisturizer oil to them regularly.

Immune boosting:  Eating healthy can help prevent a multitude of infections including athlete’s foot. The standard recommendations apply: A wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables while reducing processed foods and refined (often white) carbohydrates.

Exercise: Proper circulation can help you fend off athlete’s foot infection. This is hampered by the fact that your feet have lower blood circulation than the rest of your body. Regular moderate exercise can boost circulation through your body including your feet. It does not have to be vigorous exercise; simple exercise like walking can work.

Tea Tree Oil: The staple of every natural first aid kit, tea tree oil is an effective weapon in treating stubborn fungal infections. Wash and dry your feet first and then apply tea tree oil liberally and let air dry. Treat for at least one week after the infection appears to have cleared to ensure it is actually gone.

Oil of Oregano: This is a special remedy in that it can be used two ways to combat athlete’s foot infection. Internally it builds your immune system and fights the infection from inside your body. Externally it attacks the infection where it sprouts. Be careful when using externally as the oil in liquid form is hot. If using the liquid, dilute it first (1-3 drops depending on strength in a teaspoon of carrier oil). Wash and dry your feet first and then apply the oil liberally and let air dry. An easier solution is to use the powder from super strength oregano capsules. Empty the powder from a capsule and spread over the infection. You can also empty the powder from a capsule into your shoe.

Probiotics: Often infections have the ability to thrive in part because their natural enemy, probiotics are too weak due to processed foods and antibiotic use. Many antibiotics kill the probiotic bacteria that normally control the fungus that causes athlete's foot. You can help prevent this by taking probiotic supplements daily.

Remember when preventing or fighting any infection, persistence is key. Keep your feet clean and dry and treat any infection (actual or suspected) immediately, continuing for at least one week past when you think it is resolved.

Joel Thuna, MH, is a master herbalist with over 30 years of experience. Dr. Claude Gallant holds a PHD in microbiology.