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Athlete’s foot, also known as tinea pedis, is caused by a fungus. Because fungi like to grow in warm, damp, dark climates, the infection often strikes in athletes, who tend to have sweaty feet stuck in tight-fitting shoes for long periods of time. The rash can affect non-athletes as well, however, and can also be spread from person-to-person via unwashed clothes, shared towels, and even contaminated floors.

The scaly, itching rash typical of athlete’s foot can appear between the toes (most commonly in the webbing between the fourth toe and pinky toe), on the toenails, or even on the hands. It often comes creeping back after conventional treatment, but thankfully naturopathic strategies can help improve the likelihood of the infection resolving fully.

Here are seven ways to kick athlete’s foot once and for all.

Keep Those Tootsies Dry!

Yeast breed in damp, warm, and dark environments, such as inside of sweaty gym socks. If your kiddo’s socks get damp from sweat, rain, or running through a puddle, it’s time to change into a dry pair. (Keeping an extra pair of socks in the car, daypack, or gym bag can be handy.)

Keep it Breezy.

Take “shoe breaks” a few times daily and let your kiddo run around barefoot or in open-toed sandals. Instituting a shoes off policy inside of the house can also help ensure everyone’s feet get to breathe, and will help keep the house cleaner to boot.

Not Sharing is Caring.

If you or your child has athlete’s foot, be sure to wear flip flops at the pool or other public place where others are barefoot. Likewise, not sharing socks or towels will further help reduce transmission of the rash.

Step Away From the Steroids.

Steroids work by suppressing the immune response, which can make them handy during allergic reactions (a response in which the immune system is hyper-reactive). When used on infections, however, steroid creams only make the problem worse by weakening the immune system’s ability to fight off the fungus. Sure, hydrocortisone creams will temporary make the rash less itchy, but don’t be fooled: the itch will come roaring right back – and with a vengeance. Likewise, using antibiotic creams won’t help either, as athlete’s foot is caused by fungus, not bacteria.

Alternate Antifungals.

Fungi are incredibly adaptable, which makes it tricky to treat them thoroughly. Right when you think a magical cream from the pharmacy is making the rash better, the fungus will adapt and become resistant to the treatment. That’s why it can be helpful to outsmart the fungus by applying a variety of antifungal products to the skin. Some examples Lamisil (terbinafine topical), Lotrimin (clotrimazole topical), Desenex (miconazole topical) apple cider vinegar (diluted in equal parts water), manuka honey, a combination of spilanthes and usnea tinctures, berberine, boric acid, neem, lavender oil (just a drop or two diluted in water) or slices of raw garlic. It can be helpful to choose at least two of the above topical therapies and use one in the morning and the other at night.

Trim the Dragon Claws.

Keeping fingernails short can prevent injury to the skin from all the scratching that can come with athlete’s foot. Not only can long nails break the skin and cause bleeding; the dirt under those nails can also introduce bacteria into that broken skin, resulting in a staph infection on top of a fungal infection! Ouch!

Restrict Sugar and Refined Flours.

Sugars and refined carbohydrates like breads, pastas, cookies, and crackers, as well as starchy foods like corn and potatoes all raise the level of sugar in the bloodstream. And guess what fungi love to eat? (Hint: sugar!) Higher blood glucose levels are associated with higher risks of all kinds of infections. In fact, in cases of stubborn or recurrent fungal infections, it is often helpful to check blood sugar levels to rule out diabetes. Even in those of us who aren’t diabetic, however, steering clear of the sweets and carbs during an active infection can help us bounce back more quickly.

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Erica Zelfand
Erica Zelfand
Dr. Erica Zelfand (aka "Dr. Z") is a family physician, medical writer, and teacher.After graduating from medical school and finishing a family practice residency at NUNM, Dr. Z completed post-doctoral training in pediatrics under the tutelage of the esteemed Paul Thomas, MD. She is also adjunct faculty at NUNM's school of medicine.Dr. Z practices in Portland, OR where she sees patients of all ages in a welcoming, unhurried setting. She is deeply committed to a patient-centered, root-cause-oriented, nature-honoring approach to healing.Dr. Z is also passionate about returning unbiased scientific inquiry and proven natural therapies to their rightful place in medicine.

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