Unfortunately, athlete’s foot is highly contagious and the fungus can easily spread to the toes and toenails, causing infections. There are more than three million cases of toenail fungus in the US every year. Not all toenail infections are from athlete’s foot or even from a fungus; some are caused by yeast or mold. These are much harder to cure than fungal infections.
Fungal athlete's foot may cause a rash on one or both feet and even involve the hand. A "two feet and one hand" pattern is a very common presentation of athlete's foot, especially in men. Hand fungal infections are called tinea manuum. Fungal athlete's foot may also be seen along with ringworm of the groin (especially in men) or hand(s). It is helpful to examine the feet whenever there is a fungal groin rash called tinea cruris, or jock itch. It is important to treat all areas of fungal infection at one time to avoid reinfection. Simply treating the soles and ignoring the concurrent fungal infection of toenails may result in recurrences of athlete's foot.
Dr. Kyoung Min Han is a podiatrist (foot and ankle specialist) practicing in Southern California. Dr. Han completed her undergraduate education at the University of California, San Diego, and went on to the New York College of Podiatric Medicine to pursue her medical training. She returned to her native Southern California to complete a three-year foot and ankle surgical residency, followed by subspecialty training in a sports medicine fellowship.
Conventional treatment typically involves thoroughly washing the feet daily or twice daily, followed by the application of a topical medication. Because the outer skin layers are damaged and susceptible to reinfection, topical treatment generally continues until all layers of the skin are replaced, about 2–6 weeks after symptoms disappear. Keeping feet dry and practicing good hygiene (as described in the above section on prevention) is crucial for killing the fungus and preventing reinfection.
Red or black nails due to a hematoma, or blood under the nail, usually occur from trauma (like whacking yourself on the thumb with a hammer). The discolored area will grow out with the nail and be trimmed off as you trim your nails. If you have a black spot under your nail that was not caused by trauma, you may want to see a dermatologist or a podiatrist if it involves a toenail to make sure it is not melanoma (a type of skin cancer associated with pigmented cells). A simple biopsy can rule out malignancy (cancer).
Oral antifungal therapy has a high cure rate, depending on the medication. It can take nine to 12 months to see if it has worked or not, because that is how long it takes for the nail to grow out. Even when therapy works, the fungus may come back. Currently, an oral antifungal therapy is considered the best treatment for toenail fungus because of higher cure rates and shorter treatment duration compared to topical therapy.
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To get rid of foot fungus like Athlete's Foot, start by applying an over-the-counter antifungal ointment, spray, powder, or cream to the affected area. You can also try taking an over-the-counter medication like butenafine or clotrimazole, but see your doctor for a prescription medication if your case is severe. If you're interested in a homeopathic solution, apply 100% tea tree oil to the affected area 2-3 times per day. To prevent the fungus from returning, wash your feet with antibacterial soap and dry them thoroughly, especially between your toes!