Athlete’s foot is a type of fungal skin infection that is typically mild and goes away within 2 weeks. However, in some cases recovery may take longer if the infection is serious or affects the toenails. For people with diabetes, athlete’s foot may take up to 4 weeks to clear up.
However, even when treated with antifungal drugs, athlete’s foot may take several weeks to go away and come back after treatment.
What causes athlete’s foot?
Athlete’s foot is the result of infection caused by fungi called dermatophytes that normally live on the skin, hair, and nails. This type of fungus thrives in damp, warm environments and feeds on keratin, a protein found on the top layer of the skin.
Risk factors that can make you more vulnerable to this infection include:
- Skin allergies
- Excessive sweating
- Tight socks
- Weak immune system due to serious medical illnesses or side effects of medications
- Circulation issues in the legs due to diabetes or narrow blood vessels
- Swimming or using public showers often
Athlete’s foot is contagious, and fungi can enter the skin through small cracks or wounds and infect the top layer through direct skin contact or contact with flakes of skin in pools or communal showers.
Athlete’s foot can affect anyone (not just athletes) and is estimated to affect 3%-15% of the population. Men and older people are more likely to develop the infection.
What are the signs and symptoms of athlete’s foot?
Athlete’s foot usually affects the soles of the feet and the skin between the toes, especially between the little toe and the toe next to it. In some cases, it can affect the toenails, leading to thick, yellowish, and brittle toenails. Signs include:
How is athlete’s foot treated?
Athlete’s foot does not go away on its own. If left untreated, it can spread and lead to fungal nail infections. Treatment of athlete’s foot usually involves antifungal creams, gels, powders, or sprays, which are available without a prescription. Serious infections, however, may need prescription medications.
Home remedies that can help treat athlete’s foot include the following:
- Tea tree oil: Rubbing tea tree oil on the area twice a day can reduce itching, burning, and swelling of the skin.
- Vinegar: While not proven, it is believed that soaking the feet in a mixture of vinegar and water can help ease symptoms.
- Neem oil: Neem oil has potential antifungal properties that may help when applied 2-3 times a day to the skin.
Can you prevent athlete’s foot?
As the fungus needs a moist and damp environment to grow and survive, the following preventive measures may help you avoid it:
- Avoid wearing tight shoes or socks that can make the feet sweaty
- Take off shoes and socks as often as possible
- Pat feet dry after a shower
- Wash socks and towels regularly in hot water
- Avoid walking barefoot in public places or locker rooms
- Do not wear the same sweaty shoes over and over; allow them to dry
- Always take shower after exercise
- Thoroughly wash and dry feet after using a public shower or common changing room
- Do not share towels, socks, or shoes
InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Athlete's foot: Overview. 2015 Jan 14 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279549/
Joseph E. Athlete’s Foot. KidsHealth. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/athletes-foot.html
Penn Medicine. Athlete’s Foot: Not Just for Athletes. https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2018/october/athletes-foot
DerSarkissian C. Home Remedies for Athlete’s. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/home-remedies-athletes-foot
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