Fungal infections are amongst the most common types of skin infections. After all, our feet do come into direct contact with millions of dangerous pathogens every day. Our bodies are more than well equipped to battle regular infectious agents daily, but when our immunity is compromised, even low levels of otherwise harmless bacteria and fungi can cause harm.
Foot fungi are particularly robust organisms and are built to thrive in areas such as between your toes. Even if you're particularly conscious about keeping your feet clean, you can still catch a fungal infection from a salon or spa while getting a pedicure. A foot infection can be painful, embarrassing, and downright bothersome. Repeated infections may even take a toll on your mental health.
Understanding the source of the infection will help you avoid it in the future. Although foot fungus can be treated at home, if the infection continues to progress despite your best efforts or if it keeps occurring repeatedly, you must visit a medical healthcare professional immediately. Repeated infections may indicate some underlying conditions that require immediate attention.
As far as simple, uncomplicated fungal infections are concerned, we've got all the information you need to successfully treat them from home.
Most Common Types Of Foot Fungus And Their Symptoms
Foot fungus is incredibly common, and chances are you've either had it or know someone who has had it. There are only two major types of foot fungal infections found in humans:
- Foot Tinea Pedis, which is commonly referred to as Athletes foot
- Tinea Unguium, which is also known as Onychomycosis.
Let’s talk about each type!
1. Athletes Foot (Tinea Pedis)
Athletes foot is a fungal infection that usually affects either one or both feet. It affects the top and the soles of the feet, along with the spaces in between toes. This infection is highly contagious, and you can contract it by simply walking barefoot on the same surface that infected people have walked on. Other ways of becoming infected may include sharing towels, socks, or shoes with someone infected with the Athlete's foot.
This foot fungus is most commonly transmitted at spas, salons, saunas, swimming pools, and gym locker rooms. This is why it is essential to ensure that the sauna, spa, pool, or gym that you go to follows strict hygiene and disinfection protocols. The Athlete's foot infection affects people from both genders but is more commonly found in men. It is not race or age-specific but is rarely found in children.
The appearance of the fungal infection may vary depending on the area of the foot and the type of fungus involved. The infection is most commonly caused by the dermatophyte Trichophyton Rubrum. Below are some of the most common signs and symptoms of Athlete's foot or Tinea Pedis:
- If the infection has occurred on the top of the foot, it typically presents as scaly red patches ranging from 1cm to 5cm in size. Often times the lesion's center contains relatively normal-looking skin. Simultaneously, the border is raised and is characterized by blisters, bumps, and scabs, roughly forming a ringed appearance. This is also why the Athlete's foot is usually, although inaccurately, said to be caused by a "ring-worm."
- If the infection occurs in the interdigital spaces (between toes), it can present as soggy, inflamed, and scaly tissue. There may also be fissuring of skin (skin splitting) involved in this area. Interdigital Tinea Pedis tends to be quite itchy and, at times, painful as well.
- Tinea Pedis presents as mild to diffuse, pink, or red rashes with scales on the soles of the feet.
- Another form of Tinea Pedis is Bullous Tinea Pedis, characterized by itchy blisters on the ball of the foot or on the instep (arch).
- The last type of Athlete's foot is the rarest yet most severe kind of foot infection. It is known as Ulcerative Tinea Pedis and presents as pustules (bumps filled with pus), breaks in the skin, shallow ulcers and blisters that are painful. Although this type of infection is most commonly found between the toes, it could affect the soles of the feet as well. The open skin fissures and ulcers can easily be infected by bacteria causing superimposed bacterial infections. This type of Athlete's foot is often found in patients with weak immune systems and other chronic illnesses such as diabetes.
2. Onychomycosis (Tinea Ungiuium)
Onychomycosis is the second type of common fungal foot infection found in humans. However, this particular infection is limited to the toenails only. Both Athlete's foot and Onychomycosis can occur simultaneously as well. Fungal nails are caused by dermatophytes, the most common one being Trichophyton Rubrum. Although this fungal infection is quite common, it could also be an indication that patients have weakened immune systems.
For this reason, the fungus is often found in the older population and people suffering from diabetes, cancer, AIDs, psoriasis, and even those on immunosuppressive drugs. It is very common for both women and men to contract Onychomycosis through salons and spas after getting foot treatments. This is often because said salons do not follow proper disinfection protocols with their instruments, and since these instruments are used intensively on feet, infections are bound to occur.
Other ways of contracting foot fungal infections are through saunas, gyms, and swimming pools. If you share socks, shoes, or towels with an infected person, there are high chances of you contracting the fungus as well. Athletes and soldiers are the most common sufferers of this foot fungus because they wear tight-fitting shoes that can cause their feet to become warm and sweaty for long periods. The repeated trauma to nails and the warm and moist environment creates the perfect area for the fungus to thrive in.
Following are classic presentations of this foot fungal infection:
- Distal Subungual Onychomycosis usually starts as slight discoloration on the ends of the toenail and spreads slowly to the cuticle. Raising the nail up from the bed as it progresses. With time the toenail becomes flaky and thick.
- Proximal Subungual Onychomycosis usually starts as discoloration towards the center of the nail, or on the cuticle, and slowly spreads outwards. It raises the nail from its bed during the process. The nail may become thick, discolored, and flaky over time.
- White Superficial Onychomycosis often leads to thick, flaky, and distorted toenails. Doctors can scrape off a white powdery material from the surface of the nail for diagnosis. This condition is more common in tropical environments.
- Overall thickening of the nail.
- Discoloration of the nail.
- The foul smell emanating from the nail.
- Brittle, ragged, and crumbly toenail edges.
Most Common Causes of Foot Fungus
Let's take a look at what causes foot fungus and how you can avoid catching an infection. This information will help you keep yourself protected. Both Athlete’s Foot and Onychomycosis are highly contagious diseases that are often contracted by transmission. Some retrospection may help you figure out the source of the infection to avoid it in the future.
However, repeated infections are a common occurrence. Athlete’s foot is so contagious that the fungus can spread to different parts of the body if you're not careful. People who have severe Athletes' feet have also been known to develop Tinea Cruris (jock itch) and Tinea Manuum (ringworm of the hands).
It is best to start treatment as soon as the condition has been diagnosed to avoid it from worsening and spreading to other parts of the body.
How To Diagnose Fungal Foot Infections
Many people self-diagnose foot fungal infections by looking at the signs and symptoms of the condition. However, you must visit a medical professional for a formal diagnosis. Medical professionals will probably use tests to determine their exact condition. Microscopic observations of scrapings from the skin and nail surface are often enough to be able to diagnose the condition definitively.
Other laboratory tests that can be done to correctly identify the disease include PCR tests, staining, culture, and sensitivity tests. Very rarely does the need for a biopsy of the area arises. However, if the disease is severe and consistent, a skin biopsy may be taken to correctly identify all the pathogens involved.
How To Treat Foot Infection Caused By Fungi At Home
Once identified, there are numerous ways of treating foot fungus at home. You can use a combination of over the counter antifungal therapy, home remedies, and in more persistent cases, prescription oral antifungal medication.
However, always keep in mind that if you have both Athlete's foot and Onychomycosis, ignoring the toenail infection during treatment might cause the foot fungus to reappear. Both infections must be treated simultaneously to ensure the infection is cured completely, and there is no recurrence.
Over the counter antifungal creams and lotions that can be used to treat the condition include:
- Terbinafine (Lamisil)
- Clotrimazole (Lotrimin)
- Miconazole (Micatin)
- Ketoconazole (Nizoral)
When using antifungal ointments, keep applying the medication to the affected areas for up to 2 weeks after the infection has seemingly cleared away.
You can ask your pharmacist to guide you in selecting an antifungal ointment. However, if the infection is severe, oral medication may be prescribed as well. Oral antifungal medication includes:
- Oral Terbinafine (Lamisil)
- Itraconazole (Sporonox)
- Fluconazole (Diflucan)
However, these medications must only be taken following a physician's medical advice, as there might be serious side effects that must be monitored. Besides this, your doctor may also run some liver tests to ensure that there is no liver disease. This is done because oral antifungal medications are known to exacerbate liver conditions.
Besides antifungal medication, there are numerous effective home remedies and topical treatments that you could try as well.
- Burrow’s Solution (Aluminum Acetate) may be used as a soak to treat Athlete's foot. Patients are typically advised to soak their feet for about 30 minutes and then let the solution air dry.
- White vinegar soaks done frequently at home may also aid in the treatment of the fungus.
- Tea tree oil is known to provide significant relief from foot fungus as well.
- Salicylic Acid lotions that are available over the counter are also useful in combatting the foot infection.
- A dilute solution of Hydrogen Peroxide mixed with iodine can help to kill infectious germs and fungi.
Onychomycosis is often more challenging to treat than Athlete's foot since not many topical medications are able to penetrate the thick nail. However, treatment does exist and must be looked into for a complete cure from the foot fungus. Here’s you can treat the infection:
- Oral antifungal medicines are quite effective in the cases of Onychomycosis.
- Medicated nail lacquer containing Penlac (Ciclopirox) or Amorolfine has been known to effectively cure the nail infection and prevent its recurrence as well.
- Topical medication Jublia (Efinaconazole) has also been approved for the treatment of toenail fungus. However, it has a few unpleasant side effects, including the appearance of an ingrown toenail.
- Kerydin (Tavaborole) is a relatively newer medication that has been approved for the treatment of toenail fungus.
Foot Care Tips To Improve Foot Health
A little extra care goes a long way in trying to prevent foot fungus. The following steps will ensure that your feet stay fresh, dry, clean, and fungus-free.
- Wear clean and dry socks at all times while wearing closed shoes.
- Avoid closed shoes made of vinyl.
- Wash and dry your feet after going to the gym or playing sports.
- Try to do home pedicures instead of going to a salon. If you must go to a salon, ensure that they follow strict disinfection protocols.
- Wear open slippers at home instead of walking barefoot.
Foot fungus is a common infection of the foot and toenails. The infection is highly contagious but easily treatable. It is very rare for foot fungus to develop into a life-threatening condition. However, it is possible for it to develop into something sinister, especially if there are underlying conditions involved or if the infection is left untreated.
People with diabetes, or any other underlying disease that causes weak immune systems, should seek medical advice from a trained healthcare professional for foot fungus treatment.
What Does Fungus Look Like On Feet?
Foot fungus can present in different ways depending on the area of the foot it has affected. However, it almost always contains inflamed, red patches of skin that may be in the appearance of a ring. In the case of interdigitating foot fungus, the rashes are found between toes. In some severe cases, these rashes may also contain blisters, fissures, and blisters.
How Do I Get Rid Of Fungus On My Feet?
Getting rid of foot fungus is not incredibly hard, and if treatment is followed carefully, then the infection can be cured completely. You can follow a strict foot care regimen, which includes topical antifungal ointments, foot soaks, home remedies, and in some cases, oral medication as well.
What Is The Treatment Of Fungal Infections In Feet?
Depending on which area of the foot is infected, you can treat the foot fungus accordingly. If it is present on the top or soles of the feet, or in between toes, then topical antifungal creams and foot soak are most effective for home treatment of fungal skin diseases.
However, if the infection is of the toenails, then there are medicated solutions and lacquer that you can try. In the case of toenail infection, oral antifungal medication is prescribed by a health care professional to help with treatment.