A fungus is a common mold that thrives in dark, warm, moist areas. On the feet, it usually grows between the toes, on the bottom of the feet and on the nails. Fungal problems can be a result of environment (socks, shoes, heat, and humidity) or weakened immunity (diseases such as diabetes). Athlete's foot and fungal nails are the most common fungal problems. Chronic fungal infections are more common in adults, while acute fungal infections are seen more often in children.
Athlete's foot is a chronic type of fungal infection. It is often spread in places where people go barefoot, such as public showers or swimming pools. The condition ranges from mild scaling and itching, to painful inflammation and blisters. Athlete's foot usually starts between the toes or on the arch and may spread to the bottom and sides of the foot. It can affect one foot or both feet.
When a fungal infection progresses, it may infect one or more nails, turning them yellow, white, or black. Fungal nail infections can cause nail thickening, inflammation or sensitivity. The nails may be hard to cut and brittle.
Before any treatment is used, your doctor will look at your medical history. Your foot will be examined to make sure there is no bacterial infection involved. A sample may be taken to be sent to a lab to identify the type of fungus in order to treat it appropriately. Depending on the type of infection you have, various kinds of medications may be used in treating the fungal problem.
If your condition is not too serious, over-the-counter and prescription powders, creams or ointments can often help treat scaling and itching. Foot soaks may help dry excessive perspiration as well as application of antiperspirant, but talk with your podiatrist first. If your athlete's foot does not improve, your podiatrist may prescribe stronger medication.
Since fungal nails are usually more resistant and more difficult to treat than athlete's foot, oral antifungal medications may be prescribed. Permanent nail removal is another possible form of treatment for fungal nails when the nail is too deformed or painful.
Your daily habits play a big part in helping to prevent fungal problems.
Always dry your feet thoroughly after your bath or shower. Be sure to dry between your toes. Foot powders can help absorb moisture. To help avoid fungus-causing perspiration, alternate the shoes you wear, so they have at least a day to dry out. Also, try to wear shoes made of breathable materials. Wear natural-fiber socks and change them often, especially if you play sports. Avoid walking barefoot in public places such as pools, showers and locker rooms.