Considering that this ailment is most often associated with stalwart Schwarzeneggerites, it's no wonder that most people don't refer to athlete's foot by its wimpy clinical name: "ringworm of the feet."
But truth be told, this nasty little bugger could care less whether you pump up or punk out, whether your running is done in marathons or just into the kitchen for a halftime snack. If you want to see what encourages ringworm of the feet, just look down. Whether Nikes or ortho-walkers are your preferred footwear, your shoes are ringworm's idea of a happy home.
"Athlete's foot is caused by a fungus that thrives in warm, moist conditions and the closed shoes present a good 'incubator' for these organisms," says Michael Ramsey, M.D., clinical instructor of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. "That's why athlete's foot is quite uncommon in primitive cultures where shoes are not worn." But if you wear shoes more often than a bushman does, here's how to get a toehold on this irritating but relatively harmless infection.
Sock it to 'em. "Whenever you take off or put on your socks, it's a good practice to rub a sock up and down your toe webs," says Rodney Basler, M.D., a dermatologist and assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. "That keeps the areas between your toes dry, which is essential in preventing and treating athlete's foot."
Get cooking with baking soda. Baking soda is a cheaper alternative to expensive foot powders, yet it does essentially the same thing. Either sprinkle it on dry or make a paste by moistening one tablespoon of baking soda with lukewarm water, suggests Suzanne M. Levine, D.P.M., a clinical assistant podiatrist at the Wycoff Heights Medical Center and adjunct clinical instructor at New York College of Podiatric Medicine, both in New York City. Rub the mixture on your feet and between your toes. After about 15 minutes, rinse it off and dry thoroughly.
The answer is blowin' from your dryer. "Use your hair dryer on your feet to dry them more effectively than you can with a towel," adds Dr. Basler "And blowing air from your hair dryer into your shoes is a good way to dry them out after you wear them."
Find relief in sheep's clothing. "Placing lamb's wool between the tips of your toes (after removing your shoes) allows air to reach the affected skin, which helps make conditions less favorable for fungal growth," says Dr. Ramsey. So if the day's almost over and you can kick back for a while, prop up your bare feet with some lamb's wool between your toes.
Put on some antiperspirant. "Rubbing or spraying antiperspirant on your feet can keep them from sweating," says Dr. Basler. "You can use the same brand you use on your underarms. As long as it contains aluminum chlorohydrate, the active drying ingredient, it will work."
Disinfect your shoes. Neal Kramer, D.P.M., a Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, podiatrist, says that Lysol and other household disinfectants can kill off any living fungus spores. After you take off your shoes, rub the insides with a cloth or paper towel that has a dab of disinfectant. (Then use that hair dryer to dry out the insides of the shoes!)
The right solution: Don't use creams. Antifungal creams have the right ingredients but the wrong way of presenting them. "The problem with creams is that they help trap moisture, especially between toes," says Dr. Basler. "Solutions are much better than creams." Note: While solutions are more effective for remedying, creams can be used to help prevent athlete's foot.
Use the power in powder. If you're going with an over-the-counter powder--the most common remedy--Dr. Ramsey says some of the best are Zeasorb-AF, Desenex, Tinactin and Micatin. "I recommend against using cornstarch, because it sometimes sets you up for a yeast infection," adds Dr. Basler, who, also recommends Mycelex as a nonprescription remedy.
Foot brine is fine. A mixture of two teaspoons of salt per pint of warm water provides a foot soak that zaps excess perspiration and hampers fungus growth, says Glenn Copeland, D.P.M., who is podiatrist for the Toronto Blue jays professional baseball team and a staff member at the Toronto Women's College Hospital. Simply soak your feet for five to ten minutes at a time, repeating often until the condition clears. Added bonus: This saline solution helps soften the affected area, so antifungal medications can penetrate deeper for better results.
Remove dead skin. When your condition starts to improve, remove any dead skin. According to Frederick Hass, M.D., a general practitioner in San Rafael, California, and author of The Foot Book, dead skin houses fungus that can reinfect you. To remove it, use a bristled scrub brush on the entire foot and a baby bottle "nipple brush" on toe webs. And brush in the shower, so the dead skin goes down the drain without touching other parts of your body.
Be a shoe swapper. "In theory, you're supposed to wear a pair of shoes only once every five days in order to allow shoes to really dry out between wearings," adds Dr. Basler. "If people don't have enough shoes to do that, I suggest that they wear different pairs as often as possible."