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Foot mycosis: natural remedies and rules to prevent it

Hair, skin and nails

Foot mycosis, or the so-called "athlete's foot", can affect all those who walk barefoot in hot and humid environments such as public swimming pools, locker rooms, gyms, or those who wear shoes that are too tight to make the foot breathe properly.  The "athlete's foot" is therefore not a problem that concerns only athletes, even if those who practice sports and attend public pools or showers can be more susceptible to this problem. Basically, it is a fungal foot infection (whose scientific name is tinea pedis), which can develop at skin folds or flexures of the interdigital spaces of the feet. Are there natural remedies and tricks that can help us prevent or quickly resolve this issue? Let's find out together.

Types of fungal infections of the feet, the most affected areas

The symptoms of foot mycosis may be different, and the infection can spread to different areas. In general, one can distinguish three types of development of this problem, which, in severe cases, may also occur simultaneously.

  • Mycosis between the toes: tinea pedis, especially in the initial stages, is usually between the toes; the fungus between the toes (usually between the fourth and fifth), develops more easily because in this seat 98% moisture can accumulate.
  • Mycosis to the sole of the foot: facilitated by excessive heat and moisture, the fungus can then expand and involve the sole of the foot up to the side edges and heels; the fungus on the sole of the foot that also expands on the edges is called "moccasin".
  • Toenail fungus: if not monitored, athlete's foot can also spread along the natural edges of nails. The presence of this fungus on toenails is considered a risk factor associated with onychomycosis (i.e. various types of toenail fungal infections).

Apart from the area affected by the fungus, in the initial stages the skin of the foot area is red, scaly, and then, with the passage of time, becomes damp, smelling and characterised by more or less deep fissures and cracks that itch and flake off. In some cases even bladders with aqueous content can arise, generally located on the sole of the foot and on the side edges of the fingers.

Risk factors and causes of fungal infections in the foot

Fungi find fertile ground to proliferate in moist environments: indeed, they are usually present in showers, swimming pools and public locker rooms, places where they can infect the feet of visitors and spread. The transmission of foot mycosis may occur by contact with infected surfaces or small fragments of skin that detach from the feet of the affected person and disperse in the environment.

The onset of foot mycoses can also be encouraged by a general weakening of the immune system and the presence of certain diseases, such as diabetes, circulatory problems and so on.

There are also some external factors, or exogenous, which, if they overlap with the endogenous ones, may increase the risk of development and spread of infection. They include:

  • wearing damp or wet socks and shoes for long time;
  • being used to walking barefoot in public places (changing rooms, swimming pools etc.);
  • frequent use of unsuitable footwear (made only of non-breathable synthetic materials);
  • a bad foot perspiration;
  • the use of too tight footwear.

If the foot fungus is not treated in time, some cuts can form, with the consequent risk that they may develop other types of bacterial infections. Let's not forget that foot fungi feed on keratin, which is the protein that makes up and protects nails, hair and the horny layer of the skin. Attacking the stratum corneum, tinea pedis therefore opens the way for other types of microorganisms, which can also cause deep infections.

Tea Tree Oil and fungal infections, some considerations

Melaleuca alternifolia grows in the northern areas of South Wales and Queensland, Australia; as is well known, from the leaves of the tree, one obtains a well-known essential oil: the Tea Tree Oil.

The news about the power of this essence circulated at the beginning of the twentieth century in many countries of the world, so much so that «articles were published in the Journal of the National Medical Association (USA) and the British Medical Journal, which, in 1933 , reported that "oil is a powerful disinfectant, free of side effects and non-irritating, and has been successfully used in a large series of septic conditions”». (S. Drury, L’olio di tea Tree. Le proprietà terapeutiche di Melaleuca alternifolia, Milano 2005).

The Tea Tree oil effectiveness in the treatment of fungal infections has recently found several confirmations; as a matter of fact «in addition to antimicrobial activity, it has important antifungal properties confirmed by several in vitro and in vivo studies: the WHO recognises its topical use in case of onychomycosis and athlete's foot» (E. Campanini, S. Biondo, Terapie complementari in geriatria, Milano 2011).

8 rules for preventing and dealing with foot fungus

Athlete's foot, as we have seen, can be quite annoying and, if neglected, can spread and worsen quickly.  Of course, if the problem of foot mycosis is spread and can't resolve quickly, it is always good to hear the opinion of a doctor; if in doubt, you should avoid self-diagnosis, but it is advisable to consult an expert.

However, there are some tricks that, if adopted consistently, can help prevent fungal diseases at the foot or get rid of them faster after their onset. Let's look into them together:

  • Self-inspection. The number-one rule, often neglected by most, is self-inspection, namely foot check, especially in the spaces between two toes, in order to note any up-coming abnormalities. Even a sudden alteration of skin colour can be a light that indicates that something is wrong. This will make it possible to take timely measures, also with the help of your trusted doctor, and prevent even an early small infection from spreading quickly.
  • Keep your feet dry. Right because the fungi responsible for fungal infections develop mainly in damp places, you should make sure that your feet remain as dry as possible. You should therefore take special care of your hygiene, making sure to dry your feet completely after cleaning, passing the towel between your toes. After a work-out session, you should avoid keeping sweat-soaked socks on. While those suffering from intense foot perspiration, especially in summer, to keep their feet dry, especially the skin between toes, can use some talcum powder or natural cosmetic powder with absorbent and deodorant properties, to help eliminate moisture.
  • Choose the right shoes. To avoid moisture accumulations, especially with the summer heat, you should opt for footwear made with breathable materials. Moreover, even when choosing socks, preference should be given to those compounds from natural materials (cotton, linen etc.). In summer, you can also opt for sandals or open shoes, preferably made of leather. This way you will prevent sweat accumulation and also support any healing process, letting your feet "breathe".
  • Don’t go barefoot in public places. Those who habitually attend gyms and swimming pools should avoid walking barefoot in locker rooms and should always wear special slippers when in the shower. This will make it less likely to get an infection from other people suffering from foot mycosis.
  • Use mild detergents. Foot hygiene, as we have seen, is critical to prevent the onset of mycosis, and should preferably be carried out with mild detergent. The use of harsh cleaners could indeed alter the skin pH, which is one of the very important natural barrier against external aggression.
  • Don't scratch. Once you get fungus, no matter how annoying itching is, avoid scratching. Scratching the affected area could delay healing and cause small lesions, which in turn may promote infections.
  • Foot baths with baking soda. In the presence of foot mycosis, you can benefit from soaking your feet in baking soda water. Baking soda can indeed carry out a "cleansing" action on the areas affected by fungi. Obviously after a foot bath, it is good rule to carefully wipe your feet, gently passing the towel between toes.
  • Tea Tree essential oil. When faced with developed infection, topical use of the essential oil of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree oil) can be a valuable aid; indeed, this substance «has a particular antiviral and germicidal effect, therefore it is used in all types of infection, also of fungal origin» (S. Fischer-Rizzi, Profumi celestiali. Uso delle essenze naturali e loro azione sul corpo e sulla mente, Milano 2005).



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