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Athlete's Foot

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What is athlete's foot?
Athlete's foot is a common fungal infection of the skin of the foot.

What are the symptoms of athlete's foot?
Symptoms include itching, burning, small blisters, inflammation and cracked, scaly skin between the toes. If blisters break, they will expose small raw areas of tissue that can swell and cause pain. Itching and burning may worsen as the infection spreads. Athlete's foot can migrate to the soles of the feet and the toenails. If you scratch the infection and then touch yourself elsewhere, you can infect other parts of the body such as the groin and underarms. The fungus can also be transmitted to other parts of the body from contaminated bedding, towels or clothing.

What are the causes of athlete's foot?
Athlete's foot is caused by the tinea fungus, which you can pick up by touching a person who already is infected or from walking on damp floors in public showers or locker rooms. It's also possible to catch a fungal infection from dogs and cats, or from farm animals. A sign that animals are infected is a patch of skin with missing fur. Men are more likely to develop athlete's foot than women. Risks are highest among people with weakened immune systems.

What is the conventional treatment of athlete's foot?
For mild cases, physicians may recommend an over-the-counter antifungal medication in powder, lotion or spray form to be applied to your feet. These include Terbinafine (Lamisil AT), Clotrimazole (Lotrimin AF) and Miconazole (Micatin). These drugs must be used for one or two weeks after signs of the infection have disappeared to make sure that it doesn't return. If this treatment isn't effective, or if your infection is severe, you may get a prescription for an oral antifungal drug such as Itraconazole (Sporanox), Fluconazole (Diflucan), and Terbinafine (Lamisil). Penicillin or another antibiotic may be prescribed for secondary bacterial infections that can develop as a result of scratching infected skin.

Recommended self-care includes keeping your feet clean and dry and taking the following precautions:

  • At home, take off your shoes and expose your feet to the air.
  • Wear all cotton socks, and change them daily.
  • Dry your feet carefully (especially between the toes) after using a locker room or public shower.
  • Avoid walking barefoot in public areas. Instead, wear "flip-flops," sandals or water shoes.
  • Throw away worn-out exercise shoes. Never borrow other people's shoes.

What are the natural treatments for athlete's foot that Dr. Weil recommends?
Expose your feet to fresh air and sunlight. Keep them clean and dry - instead of closed shoes, wear sandals if you can. An excellent home remedy is tea tree oil, extracted from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia. This works as well as or better than pharmaceutical antifungal products. Apply a light coating to the affected area two or three times a day, and continue to apply it for two weeks after signs of the infection have disappeared to make sure the fungus is eradicated. Tea-tree oil will also clear up fungal infections of the toenails or fingernails, conditions that are usually difficult to cure, even with strong systemic antifungals. You'll find tea-tree oil products at health-food and herb stores. Be sure to select brands that are 100 percent tea-tree oil.

You also could try grapefruit-seed extract, which is reported to have significant antifungal effects. It is available at health food stores. Apply the extract (full strength) two to three times a day to the affected area.

An additional measure that may help is adding a clove or two of garlic (raw or lightly cooked) to your food. Garlic has natural antifungal activity.

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