Athlete's Foot-16 Strategies to Beat Athlete's Foot-[Part-1]
Blame the advertising man who misnamed it in the
1930s, but athlete's foot has nothing to do with
athletes. It's a fungal infection of the feet. Also known
as tinea pedis, or "ringworm of the feet," it has
nothing to do with worms either. The Trichophyton
fungus that causes the redness, itching, cracking, and
scaling of athlete's foot can also infect the scalp,
where it causes hair loss and scaly patches; the body,
where it causes round, red, scaly patches that itch;
and the groin, where the so-called "jock itch" causes
itching and thickening of the skin.
Athlete's foot is the most common fungal infection
of the skin. It affects more men than women, probably
because men typically wear heavy, often airtight
shoes, and the fungus loves hot, dark, moist
Contrary to popular myth, athlete's foot fungus isn't
just found in locker rooms, although the moist lockerroom
environment is perfect for fungal growth. "The
fungus is probably present in your bathroom and in
your shoes all the time," says Andrew Schink, D.P.M.,
a podiatrist in private practice and past president of
the Oregon Podiatric Medical Association.
Frank Parker, M.D., professor and chairman of the
Department of Dermatology at Oregon Health
Sciences University in Portland agrees. "There's no
good way to avoid exposure to the athlete's foot
fungus," he says, "because it's everywhere where
In fact, most people harbor the fungus on their skin,
but it's kept in check by bacteria that live on the skin.
So if the fungus is commonly present, why do some
people develop an athlete's foot infection, while other
people don't? Doctors aren't really sure, but they
believe some people are genetically more prone to
developing athlete's foot, and people with certain
health conditions, such as eczema, asthma, and hay
fever, have more difficulty getting rid of the infection.
"Some people are simply more susceptible to getting
it than others," explains James Shaw, M.D., chief of
the Division of Dermatology at Good Samaritan
Hospital and Medical Center in Portland, Oregon.
"Some people have chronic athlete's foot problems
and others are never bothered by it. It may have to do
with genetic factors or with exposure--being in places
where there are numerous feet in moist environments."
Most cases of athlete's foot cause only bothersome
redness, itching, flaking, and scaling on the soles of
the feet and between the toes. In severe cases,
however, blisters form on the soles of the feet;
fissures, or cracks, that weep fluid can also open
between the toes. These fissures are vulnerable to
secondary infection. When the infection involves the
toenails, it can cause the nails to become discolored
and thick. Also, if left untreated, athlete's foot can
infect other parts of the body.
Doctors don't agree on exactly how athlete's foot is
spread, but most believe it's passed by direct contact
with an infected person or with a contaminated
surface, such as the floor of a shower stall. But Shaw
says the real determinants of whether or not you'll get
the infection are how susceptible you are and how dry
you keep your feet.
While some severe cases of athlete's foot require a
doctor's care, most can be effectively treated at home.
The following strategies can help you soothe and heal
athlete's foot and keep it from cropping up in the
Move away from moisture.
When you think about athlete's foot fungus,
remember that it likes moist, warm, dark
environments. All of your treatment and prevention
strategies should center around keeping your feet as
dry as possible.
Dry between your toes.
"Don't just use your damp bath towel to dry between
your toes," says Schink. "Use a thin, dry hand towel
and thoroughly dry between each toe." If you can't get
your feet dry enough with a towel, try drying them
with a hand-held hair dryer on the "warm" setting.
Wash those feet.
Twice a day, wash your feet in soap and water, and
dry them thoroughly, says Shaw.
Kick off your shoes.
Go barefoot or wear open-toed sandals whenever you
can. "Going barefoot is good for the feet and great for
treating and preventing athlete's foot," says Schink.
Of course, it's not always possible to go barefoot,
especially at work. But you may be able to sneak off
those shoes during lunch, at break time, or when
you're sitting at your desk.
Over-the-counter antifungal preparations are very
effective for most cases of athlete's foot, says Parker.
These products come in creams, sprays, or solutions
and contain tolnaftate (Tinactin), miconazole
(Micatin), or undecylenic acid (Desenex). Creams
seem to be more effective, but powders can help
absorb moisture. Parker recommends washing and
drying the feet, then applying the medication
thoroughly twice a day. "Experiment. If one product
doesn't work, try another. Different products seem to
work better for different people," says Margaret
Robertson, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in
private practice and a staff physician at St. Vincent
Hospital and Medical Center in Portland, Oregon.
Too often, people stop using the antifungal
preparations as soon as the symptoms of athlete's foot
infection go away. The fungus, however, may still be
present. "Fungus is slow-dividing," Robertson
explains. "You have to be persistent and use the
medication for three to six weeks to see improvement.
" Once the infection has cleared, keep using the
antifungal cream, powder, or lotion once a day or
once a week--whatever keeps your feet fungus-free.
Make tea for toes.
To help dry out the infection and ease the itching that
accompanies athlete's foot, Schink advises soaking
your feet in a quart of warm water containing six
black tea bags. "The tannic acid in the tea is very
soothing and helps kill the fungus," he says.
[To Be Continued]
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