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Athlete's Foot: Treatment, Procedure, Cost and Side Effects

What is the treatment? How is the treatment done? Who is eligible for the treatment? (When is the treatment done?) Who is not eligible for the treatment? Are there any side effects? What are the post-treatment guidelines? How long does it take to recover? What is the price of the treatment in India? Are the results of the treatment permanent? What are the alternatives to the treatment?

What is the treatment?

Athlete’s foot is also known as tinea pedis in medical terms.

How is the treatment done?

Athlete's foot is a common but contagious fungal skin infection that affects the skin on the feet. It can also spread to the toenails and the hands. It is usually a red,scaly and raw-appearing eruption that may be occasionally weepy and oozing with small blisters. Athlete’s foot dermatitis can be caused by a number of factors like contact allergens, irritants, sweat and rash (intertrigo), poorly fitting shoes, psoriasis, and interdigital bacterial toe web infections, and fungal infections. But, mostly athlete’s foot is caused due to fungal infections. The group of fungi is known as dermatophytes which preferably thrive in closed, warm, moist environments and feed on keratin, a protein that is found in hair, nails, and skin.

Athlete’s foot show symptoms like itchy scaly red rash between the toes, small red blisters on the sole and ulcers or sores that leak fluid, smell bad, and look red. The skin continues to dry and scale on the soles and upsides of the toes.

Athlete’s foot should be treated as early as possible to prevent further damage of the skin. There are over the counter products and medicines which provide treatment to this infection. Usually, over-the-counter antifungal creams are sufficient for treating athlete's foot. Some common brands of these creams include clotrimazole (Lotrimin) and terbinafine (Lamasil). Also, oral antifungal medication can also be used. Also, maintaining personal hygiene is an important factor in the treatment of athlete’s disease.

Who is eligible for the treatment? (When is the treatment done?)

Doctor’s can diagnose athlete’s foot by looking at the symptoms itself. The skin condition with rashes, scaling, et cetera are indicative of athlete’s foot. Doctor’s may use a skin sample for other tests. A skin lesion potassium hydroxide (KOH) exam is the most common test for athlete’s foot. A sample of the skin is scraped off the surface and looked under a microscope. The sample is placed in potassium hydroxide (KOH) which destroys normal cells and leaves the fungal cells untouched. The fungal cells along with the fungi are then clearly seen to the doctor under microscope.

Treatment of athlete’s foot is often done with over the counter (OTC) medications. If these topical antifungal medicines are not able to cure the infection, then topical or oral antifungal medicines are provided with a higher dosage. There are a number of over the counter medicines available for the treatment of athlete’s foot. Some of them are miconazole (Micatin, Zeasorb powder), econazole (Spectazole), clotrimazole (Lotrimin), terbinafine (Lamisil), naftifine (Naftin), butenafine (Mentax), ciclopirox (Loprox), ketoconazole (Nizoral), efinaconazole (Jublia), luliconazole (Luzu), sertaconazole (Ertaczo), sulconazole (Exelderm), and tolnaftate (Tinactin). More advanced or resistant cases of athlete's foot require oral antifungal pills like clotrimazole or miconazole, itraconazole (Sporanox), fluconazole (Diflucan), or prescription-strength terbinafine (Lamisil) etc. These topical steroid medications help to reduce painful inflammation and other bacterial infections.

Who is not eligible for the treatment?

If a person notices any signs and symptoms of redness, increased swelling, bleeding, or recurring infection, then he or she should see a health-care professional. People with diabetes, a compromised immune system and other associated health issues will face additional problems and greater pain because of which they should see a physician for treatment as early as possible. If the condition inhibits the normal daily activities, one should seek medical attention and take antibiotic or antifungal medicines.

Are there any side effects?

Athlete’s foot can be cured with definite home remedies and proper self care. If it does not bother the person and is only a cosmetic annoyance, then a visit to a medical professional may not be necessary. Also, if there are no signs of bleeding, oozing of fluids and pus and skin condition seems to get better with self care and home remedies, then doctor’s consultation is not needed.

What are the post-treatment guidelines?

The topical antifungal medicines that are used in the treatment of athlete’s foot disease have some side effects on the patients. Antifungal foot cream may cause burning, itching, stinging, swelling, irritation, redness, pimple-like bumps, tenderness, or flaking of the treated skin. Allergic reactions may also cause severe adverse effects like severe dizziness, trouble while breathing. The drug Tolnaftate also have some side effects of which are less severe ones include skin irritation and skin inflammation while the rare yet severe side effects include giant hives and life threating allergic reactions. The person’s hair may start showing discoloration with an abnormal texture and hair fall, skin may become dry etc. These are all the adverse effects of these topical medicines used for the treatment of athlete’s foot.

How long does it take to recover?

Athlete’s foot infections can be mild or severe but can be treated well with a positive outcome. However, sometimes fungal infections are difficult to eliminate even with antifungal medications. Long-term treatment with antifungal medications even after the rashes have disappeared is necessary to keep athlete’s foot infections from returning. The topical medicines or oral antifungal medicines should be taken for at least two to three weeks after cure to stop further recurrence. Also, other preventive measures like keeping the feet clean and dry, using socks, avoiding prolonged moist environments, avoiding contact where infection can be possible, etc. must be taken. People can also use antifungal powders on a daily basis before wearing shoes for long. This will help to keep the feet fresh and prevent fungal growth.

What is the price of the treatment in India?

Tinea pedis or athlete’s foot can be mild or severe with symptoms varying from person to person. Recovery from the same can be within two to four weeks if the symptoms are mild and treatment is done as early as possible. Some symptoms are more advanced and do not go away for months even with treatment. They gradually start to wear off after six or seven months and recovery may take a year.

Are the results of the treatment permanent?

Treatment of athlete’s foot infection is a comparatively cheap treatment. The medications do not incur high expenditure. Over-the-counter creams, ointments, powders or sprays for athlete's foot cost from Rs. 300- Rs 800. The overall expenditure may be around Rs 300- Rs 2000 /- including doctor’s consultation fees and tests.

What are the alternatives to the treatment?

Usually, in most of the cases, the outcomes of the treatment is positive as well as permanent. But taking adequate self care is mandatory in order to prevent athlete’s foot infection from coming back. Thus, medicines which include creams and ointments must be applied for sometime even after the rashes disappear. People who have had the fungal infection once are at a greater risk to have it again. If proper care and preventive measures are not taken, then the fungi may again come back and affect the toes and soles.

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