Athlete’s foot, also known as tinea pedis, is a fungal skin infection that typically starts between the toes. It causes a scaly, itchy rash that may have painful or burning sensations. In some cases, people may also experience ulcers or blisters, which can be very painful.
Fortunately, athlete’s foot can be extremely receptive to home treatment. Here are 10 home treatments that are known to be effective.
1. Over-the-counter treatments
There are a number of over-the-counter (OTC) treatments available for athlete’s foot. These can come as powders, sprays, ointments, and lotions. Many cases of athlete’s foot respond well to OTC treatments and may never require other options. You can apply these treatments directly to the affected area, and use them for at least one week after symptoms resolve to prevent the infection from immediately returning.
2. Hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide can effectively kill the fungus on the surface level of the foot, as well as any surface bacteria that could cause an infection.
Pour hydrogen peroxide directly onto the affected area. Note that it may sting, and it should bubble, especially if you have open wounds. Do this twice daily until the infection subsides.
3. Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil has incredible antifungal and antibacterial properties, which is part of the reason it’s commonly used to treat many fungal infections (including both ringworm and candidiasis). One study suggested that tea tree oil can be just as effective at treating athlete’s foot as tolnaftate, another commonly used treatment.
To treat athlete’s foot, mix a carrier oil like warm coconut oil with tea tree oil for a concentration of between 25-50 percent tea tree oil. Apply it to the affected area between two and four times a day.
4. Neem oil
Both neem oil and neem leaf extracts have incredible antifungal capabilities that can help to fight athlete’s foot. You can apply the neem oil (or extract) directly to the affected area two to three times a day, massaging it into the skin. This can also be helpful for treating infections that develop under the toenails.
5. Rubbing alcohol
Much like hydrogen peroxide, many families will have rubbing alcohol on hand to clean cuts. Like hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol can help kill off the fungus that’s on the surface level of the skin. You can apply it directly to the affected area, or soak your feet in a footbath of 70 percent rubbing alcohol and 30 percent water for 30 minutes.
Garlic may have a strong scent, but it can be an effective topical treatment for athlete’s foot. One study even found that a derivative of garlic, alone, resulted in a complete cure in 79 percent of participants after just seven days.
To use garlic to treat athlete’s foot, crush four to five cloves of garlic. Once smashed, rub them over the affected area. Do this twice daily.
7. Sea salt baths
Sea salt has strong antibacterial and antifungal properties, making it a great natural treatment for athlete’s foot and any complications it could cause. It may actually inhibit the growth and spread of athlete’s foot.
Some treatments involve mixing sea salt with other natural treatments, like vinegar, to make a sort of paste. The most effective way to use this treatment may be to dissolve a cup of sea salt into a warm foot bath. Soak your feet for at least 20 minutes. Dry your feet thoroughly once over.
8. Talcum powder
Talcum powder, corn starch, or baby powder work to treat athlete’s foot by keeping the affected area dry and clean. This makes it difficult for the fungus to thrive and spread by keeping sweat and moisture under control.
To use this treatment, apply talcum powder (or antifungal powder) directly to the dried, affected area every time before putting on socks. Be careful not to inhale talcum powder.
9. Vick’s vapor rub
Not only can Vick’s vapor rub reduce symptoms from a bad cough, it can help treat athlete’s foot. This may be because of its use of eucalyptus oil and menthol, both of which have antifungal properties. One study even found that Vick’s significantly reduced athlete’s foot symptoms in more than half of participants in the trial.
Rub Vick’s on the affected area every night, massaging it into the foot. Do this every night for at least a month, or up until a week after the infection has disappeared.
10. Keep your feet dry and clean
It’s important to prevent athlete’s foot. Fungus can grow in dark, moist areas, making your feet an ideal place for athlete’s feet to develop. If you have athlete’s foot (or even if you just want to prevent it), keep your feet as dry and clean as possible. Change your socks regularly. As soon as you’re done working out, clean your feet and put on a fresh pair of socks. Dry the space between your toes. Don’t go barefoot in public pool or gym areas.
You should also use shoes that are well-ventilated and allow your feet to breathe to help athlete’s foot resolve more quickly.
Potential risks and complications
If untreated, athlete’s foot can result in a bacterial infection if skin is broken. This can happen when the skin is scratched due to scratching, or when blisters pop or ulcers become infected. Any type of infection can be very serious and requires prompt treatment.
Athlete’s foot is also very contagious. It can easily spread to your hands, especially if you’re scratching at the affected area. This fungus can also infect the area under your nails, which can be more difficult to treat, or the groin area.
When to see your doctor
If you think you have athlete’s foot and it hasn’t subsided after a week of home treatment, make an appointment to see your doctor. You may need prescription antifungals (either oral or topical) to get rid of the infection.
You should also make an appointment to see your doctor if you have athlete’s foot and diabetes. This is especially true if you have signs of a secondary bacterial infection, which can be more dangerous in those with diabetes due to their nerve damage. Signs of infection include redness, pus, swelling, drainage, and fever. If you have diabetes, you may not feel pain in your feet due to nerve damage.
Your doctor will likely be able to diagnose athlete’s foot just by looking at it.
Because athlete’s foot is contagious, make sure you avoid scratching or touching the area except when treating the affected area. Wash your hands before and after applying treatment. This can help prevent the foot from developing a bacterial infection, and prevent the fungal infection from spreading to other parts of your body.
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