Can home remedies cure jock itch and athlete’s foot?

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Washing your hands often can help prevent the spread of fungi if a loved one in your home has contracted ringworm. (Thinkstock photo)

Contrary to its name, a ringworm infection is not caused by a worm but by a fungus. It can be contagious and is often characterised by a red circular rash with clearer skin in the middle. Offering tips about what to do if you have a ringworm infection is Dr Koh Hong Yi, Associate Consultant of the Dermatology Unit at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group.

“Ringworm is a fungal infection affecting the skin, hair or nails. These fungi are not normally found on human skin but can infect us from other infected individuals, animals, objects and even soil,” says Dr Koh.

Common types of ringworm infection

While a ringworm infection can appear virtually anywhere on the body, it tends to affect skin on the feet (tinea pedis, also called athlete’s foot) and groin area (tinea cruris, also known as jock itch).

“These areas are frequently affected because of the warm and moist environment they offer, which is ideal for fungal growth,” says Dr Koh.

Related article: Men, do you feel itchy down there? Here’s a list of possible causes – and they’re not all sexually transmitted

Children are more prone to ringworm infection of the scalp. This condition, called tinea capitis, often displays signs such as:

  • Patches of scaly skin on the scalp, which may be sore
  • Itchy scalp
  • Patchy hair loss

For athlete’s foot (tinea pedis), apart from an itchy, dry, red rash between the toes or side of the foot, other symptoms include:

  • Cracked skin in the affected area
  • Blisters that may ooze or crust
  • Burning or stinging sensation of the skin

In cases of jock itch (tinea cruris), symptoms commonly experienced are:

  • Red-brown sores (not necessarily ring-shaped) that may have blisters or pus-filled sores around the edge
  • Itchiness and redness around the groin area such as the inner thighs and bottom (genitals are usually unaffected)
  • Scaly and flaky skin on the inner thighs

“It’s not uncommon to develop tinea cruris (jock itch) in combination with athlete’s foot,” says Dr Koh. This is because scratching your foot with your hand may cause you to unknowingly transfer fungal spores to your groin area when dressing or going to the toilet.

Related article: Athlete’s foot: You don’t have to be an athlete to get it but how do you get rid of it? Our podiatrist answers

How is ringworm treated?

Antifungal creams – belonging to the azole class (such as clotrimazole and miconazole) or allylamine class (for example, terbinafine) – are effective treatments in most cases. These creams, available off the counter, must be applied once or twice daily, for two to four weeks.

However, if you’re unsure if you indeed have ringworm, if the rash fails to respond to topical treatment, or if the infection becomes extensive, be sure to check with your doctor as oral antifungal agents may be needed. Patients with fungal infections of the scalp and nails should also consult a doctor to get the most effective treatment.
Dr Koh offers the following advice for tinea cruris (jock itch):

  • Make sure to check for, and treat, athlete’s foot to avoid cross-infection
  • Apply talcum or other dessicant powder to keep the affected area dry
  • Avoid hot baths and tight-fitting clothes (for example, men should wear boxers instead of briefs)

Are home remedies effective against ringworm?

Although there have been reports that a chemical compound isolated from garlic was successfully used as an antifungal agent, this does not mean that garlic itself is a remedy for fungal infections. After all, the compound concentration in a single piece of garlic may be insufficient, and rubbing garlic onto the skin is more likely to irritate it.

Some also believe that applying apple cider vinegar over the affected area can help get rid of ringworm, but there have been instances where this has resulted in chemical burns to the skin, warns Dr Koh.

“As topical antifungal creams are readily available and are generally very well tolerated, it may be better for patients to use these rather than try home remedies,” Dr Koh advises.

Related article: Testicular itch – What causes it and how to stop the constant itching

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