Foot fungal infections aren’t usually serious, but they can be unpleasant and unsightly. Learn how to care for them at home and decrease their chance of returning with the following foot fungal infection treatments and preventive measures.
What Are Foot Fungal Infections?A fungal infection of the foot affects the outer layers of the skin and nails. Athlete’s foot and onychomycosis are the two main foot fungal infections:
- Athlete’s foot: Also known as tinea pedis, Athlete’s foot is a skin infection that often begins between the toes. Athlete’s foot can spread to the foot’s sides, heel or sole.
- Onychomycosis: Also known as tinea unguium, onychomycosis is an infection of the toenail and nailbed. While onychomycosis usually affects the big or little toenails, it can affect multiple nails at once.
What Causes Foot Fungal Infections?Foot fungus is a common infection caused by moisture-loving fungi.
Athlete’s FootA type of fungi called dermatophytes causes Athlete’s foot. Dermatophytes rely on keratin for growth, a protein found in hair, skin and nails. This is why dermatophytes are drawn to the feet. Warm, humid conditions created by damp socks and shoes can be breeding grounds for these fungi. An existing toenail fungal infection can also spread to the skin nearby and cause Athlete’s foot. Athlete’s foot can spread to others through bodily touch or contact with a contaminated surface, such as towels, shoes or floors. You can also spread it to other body parts if you scratch or pick the infected skin on your foot and don’t wash your hands afterward.
OnychomycosisVarious fungal organisms can cause onychomycosis. As with Athlete’s foot, dermatophytes are a common culprit, although mold, yeast and bacteria can also cause onychomycosis. Just as onychomycosis can cause Athlete’s foot, Athlete’s foot can cause onychomycosis. You can also acquire onychomycosis if you touch fungi-contaminated spaces, such as wet floors in public places or the insides of damp, dark shoes.
Who Gets Foot Fungal Infections?Foot fungal infections can occur in anyone, but the following risk factors can make you more vulnerable.
Risk Factors for Athlete’s FootAthlete’s foot is most common in young adult males. Additional risk factors for Athlete’s foot include:
- Wearing shoes that fit over the entire foot, such as boots or athletic sneakers.
- Wearing socks and shoes that allow little airflow.
- Having diabetes, which can damage the nerves in your feet over time.
- Excessive sweating.
- Taking medications that suppress the immune system, such as corticosteroids.
- Frequenting hot and humid environments.
- Extended foot exposure to water or moisture.
Risk Factors for OnychomycosisOlder adults and people with the following conditions are at greater risk of onychomycosis:
- A toenail injury.
- A foot deformity.
- Untreated Athlete’s foot.
- Weakened immune system.
- Fungal skin infections elsewhere on the body.
- Poor circulation in the legs, such as from peripheral artery disease.
- Frequent exposure to damp, warm environments.
- Excessive sweating.
- Tightly fitting, unbreathable footwear.
Symptoms of Fungal Infections in FeetThe following symptoms commonly occur in foot fungal infections.
Athlete’s FootAthlete’s foot can affect one or both feet. It appears in one of the following three ways:
- Dry, scaly or itchy skin between the toes, often between the fourth and fifth toes.
- Dry, scaly or itchy skin on the sides and sole of the foot.
- Blisters on the inside of the foot.
- Skin thickening.
- Foot odor.
- Skin discoloration (white, yellow or green).
- Moist, flaky skin.
- Ulcers between the toes.
- Oozing between the toes.
OnychomycosisMost onychomycosis cases aren’t serious. However, the following unpleasant symptoms may occur:
- Nail discoloration (white, yellow, green or brown).
- White spots on the nail.
- Nail thickening.
- Nail cracking.
- Fragile, weakened nail.
- Scaly skin under the nail.
- Separation between the nail and nailbed.
How to Fix a Foot Fungal InfectionThe following at-home treatment options can help ease the symptoms of foot fungal infections:
Athlete’s FootFor treating Athlete’s foot, you have several options:
- Over-the-counter antifungal products: After washing and drying the affected area thoroughly, apply an antifungal product. These products come in various formulations, so you may need to experiment to find the right one.
- Hydrogen peroxide: Hydrogen peroxide can kill fungus and bacteria on the foot’s surface. Pour it directly onto the infected foot twice daily — it may sting and should bubble if you have open wounds.
- Rubbing alcohol: Similar to hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol can help fight fungi on the skin. Apply it directly to the foot or soak it in a solution of 70% rubbing alcohol and 30% water for 30 minutes daily.
- Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil has fungi- and bacteria-fighting abilities. Mix it with another oil, such as coconut, for a concentration of up to 50% tea tree oil and apply it to the foot twice daily.
- Talcum powder: Talcum powder helps keep the affected foot dry, choking out moisture-loving fungi. Sprinkle it on the dry affected foot each day before putting on socks.
- Garlic: Garlic’s natural antifungal abilities can help fight Athlete’s foot. Crush four to five garlic cloves and rub them into the affected area twice daily.
- Topical cough suppressants: The eucalyptus and menthol in topical cough suppressants can help treat foot fungus. Massage it into the affected foot nightly for at least a month until the infection clears up.
OnychomycosisMany of the at-home treatments for Athlete’s foot can also effectively treat onychomycosis, such as the following:
- Tea tree oil
- Topical cough suppressants
- Olive leaf extract: Oleuropein is a substance in olive leaf extract thought to have antifungal abilities. You can take it in a capsule or apply it in salve form directly to the affected toenail.
- Essential oils: Many essential oils have antifungal properties. Apply oregano oil to the affected toenail twice daily using a cotton swab.
- Vinegar: Vinegar has antifungal properties that may help fight fungal infections. Soak the infected toenail in a mixture of one-third vinegar to two-thirds warm water for 20 minutes daily.
- Mouthwash: The eucalyptus, menthol and thymol in specific brands of mouthwash have antifungal properties. Place the affected foot in a soak for 30 minutes daily.
How to Prevent Foot Fungal InfectionsThe following measures can help you avoid foot fungal infections:
- Keep your feet dry and clean: Wash your feet twice daily and dry them well, especially between the toes.
- Be conscious of your footwear: Wear lightweight and breathable socks and shoes. If your feet become sweaty, change your socks regularly. Avoid vinyl or rubber shoes, and wear sandals to air your feet out when appropriate.
- Switch out your shoes: Alternate the shoes you wear from day to day so they can dry out between uses.
- Wear shoes in wet public places: Waterproof shoes can help protect your feet in pools and shower rooms.
- Avoid sharing shoes with others: You can acquire or spread Athlete’s foot if you share shoes.
When to See a Doctor for Foot Fungal InfectionsYou may want to visit a doctor if home remedies haven’t helped your fungal infection and your symptoms worsen. You should also contact your health care provider if you have a foot fungal infection plus any of the following:
- Bleeding around the nail.
- Pain or swelling around the nail.
- Trouble walking.