Rx: Home remedies for skin infections

MIND YOUR BODY - Dr. Willie T. Ong () - May 29, 2012 - 12:00am

The following five skin diseases can affect anyone. But they are more common among the poorer sectors of society.

The first three conditions are fungal infections, under the medical term of tinea infections. Fungal infection can affect the toes (Athlete’s Foot), the body (ringworm), and the groin area (Jock Itch). Let’s learn about how to prevent and treat these conditions.

• Athlete’s Foot (medical term: Tinea pedis) is a flaky, itchy, and smelly infection affecting the skin between the toes. Left untreated, this may spread to the entire foot. Soldiers, security guards, and athletes are prone to get fungal infections, because of the long hours of wearing socks and shoes.

To prevent getting Athlete’s Foot, wash your feet daily with soap and water. Dry it completely before wearing your socks. If you have Athlete’s Foot, it’s better to wear slippers or sandals. Be careful when going barefoot in public changing rooms, spas, and swimming pools. Warning: Those damp floors may have fungus on them.

Keep your shoes clean and dry, and, if possible, change it every other day. Did you know that each of our feet sweats around a cup a day? If your feet sweat heavily, change your socks twice a day. You may also remove your socks and shoes an hour everyday to “air” your feet. (Be sure your co-workers are not around.)

One home remedy to treat Athlete’s Foot is to soak your feet in equal parts of white vinegar and water for 15 minutes twice a day. Dry your feet thoroughly after each soak.

You can put some baking soda between the toes to keep them dry. In addition, sprinkle some baking soda inside your shoes to help absorb the moisture and prevent fungus from growing.

To medically treat Athlete’s Foot, apply antifungal cream twice a day for two to four weeks until the problem goes away. You can also use foot powder to make it heal more quickly. (See medical treatment for fungus below.)

• Ringworm infection (Tinea corporis) is a scaly, circular, and itchy rash found on the body, face, arms or legs. The borders of the ringworm are noticeably reddish, irregular, and may gradually enlarge in size. Of course, it’s not a real worm underneath the skin, but rather a fungal infection.

Athletes and those with poor personal hygiene are prone to get ringworms. You can acquire ringworms by being infected by another person, animal or object.

Hence, avoid kissing or touching the skin of infected people. Be very clean. You can also catch ringworms by touching the clothes, towels, and personal items of persons with ringworms.

During hot weather, stay cool and dry. Change your shirt often if it’s already drenched in sweat.

For mild cases of ringworms, treatment is with an antifungal cream. Wash and dry the area of the ringworm. Apply the cream twice a day for at least two weeks.

• Jock Itch (Tinea cruris) is another fungal infection located in the skin of the inner thighs, groin, buttocks, and genitals. This infection is common in athletes, basketball players, football players, and runners. Sweating heavily and wearing tight shorts can lead to Jock Itch. People with weakened immune system are also susceptible to these fungal infections.

Similar to ringworm, the rash of Jock Itch is itchy, reddish, and often circular. The skin is also moist and can appear bruised. Jock Itch can be spread by sharing infected personal items or through sexual contact.

Prevention of Jock Itch is by wearing loose shorts, where air is allowed to circulate. Avoid wearing tight briefs and pants. Boxer shorts are preferred. And if at home, it’s advisable not to wear briefs.

Mild cases are treated with antifungal creams. However, more serious cases and those with diabetes and weakened immune system should consult a doctor.

Medical treatment for fungal infections

Athlete’s Foot, ringworm, and Jock Itch are all treated with an antifungal cream. The only problem is the cost. A cheap and mild treatment is Dermalin cream (made up of salicylic acid, benzoic acid, and sulfur). It’s P50 per five-gram tube.

A stronger antifungal treatment is Ketoconazole cream (United Homes Ketoconazole) at P76 per five-gram tube. Some generic stores also offer cheap antifungal creams. (Note: Expensive creams cost around P150 per tube.)

Because of its contagious nature, these fungal infections tend to come back. Should this happen, simply repeat the treatment.

• Head lice (Pediculosis capitis) or kuto is caused by a small brownish insect (around 2 mm in size) that lives and feeds on blood from the scalp. Head lice lay eggs, called nits, on the hair shaft, which can be seen as whitish segments on the hair. School children and women with long hair are more prone to getting head lice.

People with head lice have intense itching of the scalp. Scratching may cause bruising, leading to a bacterial infection of the scalp. Head lice can very easily transfer from one person to another. Once your head gets close to an infected person, these parasites could transfer from hair to hair.

How do you prevent getting lice? Don’t go near people with them. You can also get head lice by using infected pillows, clothes, hats, and stuffed toys. To kill the insect, wash pillow sheets and clothes in boiling water for at least 10 minutes. Then, let it dry in the sun. Also, use a vacuum cleaner for your floor and furniture.

To treat head lice, wash your hair with Kwell shampoo (generic name Permethrin 10 mg). Wet hair completely and apply Kwell shampoo for 10 minutes. Shampoo well and rinse thoroughly. Make sure to avoid getting shampoo in the eyes. Don’t use the shampoo more than twice in a week to avoid toxicity.

An alternative home treatment is to use a fine-toothed comb (called suyod). Wet hair completely, then comb the hair repeatedly every three days for at least two weeks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nits found 6.5 mm away from the scalp have already hatched or are not going to hatch. Hence, the need for repetitive combing to remove new nits. Lastly, it’s better to cut the hair shorter so the lice will have less hair to infect.

• Scabies (or galis in Filipino) is an itchy skin disease caused by a tiny mite called Sarcoptes scabei. Scabies can be found in humans, dogs, and cats, too. These parasites can live up to a month while feeding on the human skin.

The scabies mite attaches itself between skin folds, leaving tiny linear tracks on the webbed skin between the fingers, the wrist, feet, elbows, groin, and around the breasts. The female mite burrows underneath the skin and deposits its eggs. After three weeks, the eggs mature and new mites spread to other parts of the body.

Scabies is contagious and can become very itchy at night. Too often, scratching leads to bruising of the skin.

Treatment of scabies is with Kwell lotion (generic name Permethrin 50 mg lotion). Follow these directions well. Take a bath first, then apply Kwell lotion thinly to cover the whole body, from the ears and neck down to the feet. Let the lotion stay on for eight hours and then take a bath again. For widespread infection, you may repeat the process after five days. Warning: Don’t use the lotion more than twice because of its toxicity.

Permethrin is safe for children two months of age and older. Breast-feeding mothers should stop breast-feeding while on the treatment. All infected household members should be treated together; otherwise, scabies will just spread again.

To prevent getting scabies, use boiling water to disinfect towels, pillows, and bed sheets. Another option is to put the infected items in a sealed plastic bag. The mites will starve and die after a week. You may put a cold towel on your skin to lessen the itching.

Remember, in all these skin diseases, a clean body and a clean home are the best prevention measures.

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