But each of the numerous creams on the market today that treat the condition all have different ingredients and different directions for use. Which one is best? And what can you do if you don't want to use an athlete's foot cream at all?
The answer lies in understanding what athlete's foot is, how the different treatments work, and various measures for preventing reinfection.
Different Kinds of Athlete's Foot Cream
An athletes foot cream will typically have one of these main ingredients: clotrimazole, miconazole, terbinafine, or tolnaftate. They all work in slightly different ways and have different directions for use. You may find them in ointment form, as a spray, or as a powder. Which form to choose depends on your preference.
Clotrimazole is an athlete's foot cream, powder, or spray, typically sold under the name Lotrimin or Canesten. You may also find it as a generic or house brand cream, sold as Clotrimazole.
How it works
Clotrimazole works by killing fungal cells. Treatment typically consists of applying the cream, powder, or spray twice a day, for a minimum of four weeks.
The treatment period is longer than that of some other treatments. It also has a lesser cure rate than some other treatments.
Miconazole, or miconazole nitrate, is another popular athlete's foot cream. You might find it under the name Miconazole. It is also sold as Desenex, M-zole, Micatin, and Monistat.
How it works
Miconazole works by preventing the growth of new fungal cells. It does not kill existing cells. You should apply miconazole cream, powder, or spray twice a day for a minimum of four weeks.
Tolnaftate comes as an athlete's foot cream, as a spray, a spray powder, and as a powder. You may find it under the trade name Tinactin, and also as a generic, or store brand medication.
How it works
Tolnaftate works by preventing new fungal cells from growing. It does not kill existing cells. Tolnaftate treatment consists of applying this athlete's foot cream, powder, or spray twice a day for between two and four weeks.
You may find terbinafine spray or cream sold under that name as a generic, or store brand product. You may also find it under the names of Lamisil, Corbinal, or Terbisil.
How it works
Terbinafine works by killing the fungal cells that are causing the athlete's foot infection. Treatment consists of applying the cream, spray, or powder once or twice a day (per product directions) for one week.
What is Athlete's Foot?
Athletes foot is the common name for an infection of the foot, tinea pedis, which is caused by different kinds of fungi. The most common place for this infection to occur is between the fourth and pinky toe. However, it might also happen between the other toes, on the sole of the foot, or even on the heel.
Most often, the first symptom will be itching or burning between the toes. However, many people may not notice it at all until they feel pain between the toes, and see a crack in the skin. Visual signs of athlete's foot include cracking, scaling, and redness in the affected area.
How it spreads
Like all fungi, the fungi that cause athlete's foot thrive in dark, damp conditions. Typically, people pick up the fungi from contact with infected items such as floors, showers, baths, towels, socks, shoes, and so on. Athlete's foot is extremely contagious. It can travel on hands, clothing, pets, and more. For this reason, reinfection is common.
Who can get it?
Almost anyone can get it. However, as the name suggests, athletes are often at risk. The fungi that cause athlete's foot love gym showers and floors. And they thrive in the warmth, dampness, and darkness of athletic shoes.
Some sports where barefoot participants share a floor with many others, like martial arts, create a fungus' dream environment. But you don't have to be an athlete. Anyone with feet can contract athlete's foot. All it takes is contact with an infected surface.
Is it serious?
In and of itself, athletes foot is not serious. It can, however, be very persistent and very annoying. It may take several courses of treatment to cure it. Additionally, after it goes away, you may have to take concrete steps to make sure it doesn't come back. Left untreated, athlete's foot can open the door to a bacterial infection which can become serious.
Athlete's foot that keeps coming back, or that won't go away with treatment may also be a symptom of diabetes. People who know they have diabetes should be especially careful, as diabetes sometimes damages the nerves of the feet. As a result, a diabetic patient may not know that they have athlete's foot until the skin has opened and become seriously infected with bacteria.
If your athletes foot has progressed to blisters, pus, swelling, open sores, or other signs of infection, you need to seek medical treatment. A doctor may prescribe an antibiotic for the infection, and possibly an oral antifungal for the athlete's foot.
What is the Best Athletes foot cream?
It's important to note, however, that there are many different kinds of fungi that can cause athlete's foot. As a result, some medicines may be more effective than others for any given case. If your athlete's foot doesn't respond to one treatment, contact your doctor to see if another treatment may work better for you.
Home Remedies for Athlete's Foot
Athlete's foot is nothing new, and it existed long before commercial athlete's foot cream preparations. It would stand to reason, then, that some other effective treatments exist. They do, and if you're uncomfortable using a commercial preparation, or perhaps have had negative reactions to a commercial athlete's foot cream before, you might want to give some of these a try.
Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil is a fragrant oil with demonstrated antifungal properties. One study found that a 50 percent solution of tea tree oil, applied twice daily for four weeks, resulted in a 68 percent reduction in athlete's foot fungus. Interestingly, the same study found that a less concentrated solution -- 25 percent -- resulted in a greater reduction -- 72 percent. What's more, the 50 percent solution had a 64 percent cure rate, which is greater than miconazole and equal to tolnaftate.
You can find tea tree oil at most health food stores. It's important to note, however, that undiluted tea tree oil can burn, irritate, and damage the skin. So if you try this method, make sure to dilute your tea tree oil.
Garlic is another home remedy that shows remarkable promise in fighting athlete's food, as well as other fungal infections. One study showed that ajoene, a chemical derived from garlic, cured athlete's foot in 79 percent of the study participants after just seven days. On top of that, it kept the fungus from growing back up to 90 days after the initial cure.
The designers of the study created a topical cream from ajoene. Unfortunately, ajoene athlete's foot cream isn't commercially available. However, some experts recommend crushing a few garlic cloves in a foot bath and soaking your feet for 30 minutes a day. Alternately, they suggest mincing a few garlic cloves, mixing it with olive oil, and applying to the affected area with a cotton ball.
Be careful, however. Garlic may cause some people to experience burning or irritation of the skin.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is both antifungal and antibacterial. This means that it kills both fungi and bacteria. It can kill infection and keep the fungus from spreading.
For athlete's foot, Healthline recommends soaking your feet in an apple cider vinegar bath once a day for 10 to 15 minutes. The bath should be one part vinegar to two parts water.
They caution, however, that it may take two to three weeks to see improvement. Healthy Focus also recommends applying undiluted apple cider vinegar to the affected area, using a cotton ball. Please note, however, that undiluted apple cider vinegar may cause skin irritation in some people.
How to Prevent Reinfection
Athlete's foot can be persistent, and getting rid of it can be a real chore. So the last thing you want, once you've finally cured it, is to get reinfected. Unfortunately, since the fungus can hide in clothing and on surfaces, or hitch a ride on anything that touches your feet, it may well come back. Here are a few tips for making that less likely to happen.
Wash and dry your feet thoroughly
Do this at least once a day, and make sure you do it before applying your athlete's foot cream. Remember: fungus loves moisture, so dry your feet carefully every time, paying special attention to the area between the toes.
Wear light, breathable shoes
Fungi thrive in warm, dark, damp environments, and that means tight shoes. Try to wear lightweight shoes made with breathable materials or even sandals with socks.
Change shoes and socks daily
Change your shoes and socks every day to avoid re-infecting your feet with shed fungus.
Special treatment for infected laundry
First, separate out socks, towels, and any clothing that has touched infected feet. Then, wash them in water that is at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius). For white cotton socks, add chlorine bleach.
Disinfect your shoes, and wait 24 hours before wearing them again. Wipe down gym bags, laundry hampers, etc. with disinfectant wipes, or with diluted chlorine bleach. Use an athlete's foot powder in your shoes and socks.
One word: flip-flops
Avoid going barefoot, especially in shared areas like gym showers and locker rooms. Invest in a pair of shower slippers to protect your feet.
Sharing isn't caring
Don't share towels, shoes, or socks with others. You don't know where their feet have been! More importantly, the fungi that cause athlete's foot can hitch a ride on the most unexpected things. Don't expose your feet to the unexpected.
Most cases of athlete's foot are annoying, but nothing to get upset about. In most instances, a good athlete's foot cream will take care of it. Studies have shown that terbinafine cream is the most effective, and has the shortest treatment course.
However, different fungi can cause athlete's foot, and not every medicine will treat every fungus with equal effectiveness. If your athlete's foot does not respond to treatment, or if you develop symptoms of infection, such as open sores, pus, fever, or swelling, then it's important to contact your doctor as soon as possible.
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