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What Are The Types of Fungal Foot Infections?

We discuss the ins and outs of all things feet from athletes foot to those pesky blisters that seem to appear at the back side of your ankle after you buy and wear those fancy trainers you've been saving up for.

With lockdown easing and the pressure for seeing GPs increasing. Pharmacists are dealing with more and more queries from the general public about common conditions. In this week's article, we take a look at a handful of common foot conditions, thank god I don’t put pictures in my articles! We look at what they are, how you can recognise them, and how you can help treat them.

What is Athlete's Foot?

Athletes' foot, or tinea pedis, causes itching, cracking and blistering. The condition usually starts between the fourth and fifth toes, then spreads as well as causing you to experience crumbly toenails, and cracked, dry, and raw skin on your feet. The condition is highly contagious, and it can spread to other areas of the skin, including the hands, groin, and scalp. Athlete's foot is caught by other people with the infection. You can get it by walking barefoot in places where someone else has athlete's foot – especially changing rooms and showers. You're more likely to get it if you have wet or sweaty feet, or if the skin on your feet is damaged.

Fortunately, it can be treated with over the counter medicines (OTC) at your local pharmacy. Provided the pharmacist deems it safe for use, typical anti-fungal creams and sprays such as clotrimazole and miconazole are suitable agents for treating it. However, if you are diabetic, on certain medicines like blood thinners such as warfarin, the pharmacist will refer you to the GP to get a suitable alternative on prescription. A person should keep their feet clean and dry, and dry them with a separate towel. Similarly, if you have tried OTC products and it has not helped, you should see your GP.

Ingrown Toe Nails

Toenails that grow into the surrounding skin are known as ingrown toenails. These can occur if you have nails that curve, poorly trimmed nails, compressed toes, or an injury to your toes or even running. Ingrown toenails can be incredibly painful, and will cause redness, swelling, pain, or even drainage from the toenail, which can indicate that an infection is present. You will most likely find it difficult to walk and the toenail affected will be very sensitive to touch.

Before you see the GP, there are some at home tips to treat the toenail:

  • Soak your foot in warm water 3 to 4 times a day for a few days – this softens the skin around your toe and stops the nail growing into it
  • Keep your foot dry for the rest of the day
  • Wear wide, comfortable shoes or sandals, no pointy tips!
  • Take paracetamol or ibuprofen, if safe, to ease the pain

However, if there is any sign of infection such as pus from the toenail, or if these at home tips have not worked then it is advised to go see the GP. They will be able to refer you to a podiatrist where they will take a better look at the toenail and some minor surgery may be required. The GP will likely prescribe antibiotics such as flucloxacillin if there is an infection present.

What Are Blisters?

Generally, blisters aren’t a serious condition and can be treated at home. Blisters are a common occurrence, and most people will experience them at some point in their life. Often appearing after walking or running for long periods of time, especially if the feet have become sweaty or when wearing shoes that do not fit correctly. They appear as raised fluid filled pockets and can be uncomfortable.

Normally resolving themselves within a week, here are some top tips to help speed up the healing process:

  • Cover blisters with a soft plaster or padded dressing
  • Wash your hands before touching a burst blister
  • Allow the fluid in a burst blister to drain before covering it with a plaster or dressing

As tempting as it may be, it is vital that you do not try to burst the blister yourself, as this is how you can cause an infection. Do not pick at the blister or around the skin. Painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can be helpful particularly if the blister is causing discomfort.

What is Plantar Fasciitis?

Plantar Fasciitis is where the bottom of the heel becomes inflamed, giving an incredibly painful experience for those that have it, usually worse first thing in the morning when getting out of bed. The pain also worsens with activity. Risk factors include being obese, having a very high arch, having tight calf muscles, and participating in activities that repetitively stress the heel, such as running. The pain does vary from a dull ache to a sharp shooting pain.

Home-based treatments for the condition include applying ice, taking anti-inflammatory medications, and stretching the foot daily. If needed, your doctor may be able to ease pain with corticosteroid injections and refer to physical therapy.

What Are Verrucas?

A verruca is a wart on the foot caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). They commonly occur on the soles of the feet and toes and can be contagious and transmitted through direct person-to-person contact. When the skin gets very wet it loses its suppleness and flexibility which can cause tiny cracks and splits to occur. These breaks in the skin make it easier for the verruca virus to penetrate the skin, commonly found in areas like gyms and pools. They are harmless but can be painful.

In many cases verruca will spontaneously resolve on their own within 6-12 months for children but longer for adults. However, to speed up the process you can buy OTC products that contain salicylic acid, it is important to only cover the area that has the verruca on it as salicylic acid can damage healthy tissue. However, if you are immunocompromised or diabetic then you must see the GP as soon as you think you have a verruca.

Whilst the vast majority of these conditions are initially harmless, if left untreated it can cause you a lot of bother in the long run so it is important to speak to your local pharmacist if you have any concerns.