What is a fungus?
Fungus is a microscopic mold which can affect humans and animals. There are many species of fungus but only a few are commonly encountered in your everyday environment that can cause problems for you.
How do I know if I have a fungal infection?
Fungus causes an infection to human skin, hair, and nails. When it affects skin of the foot, it is commonly known as Athlete’s Foot or ringworm. It can start as an itchy type of blister; sometimes it is in a ring shape that can erode away your normal skin and spread. It causes symptoms of burning, itching, and pain. If left untreated, it can cause skin to fissure and crack, leaving you susceptible to other forms of infection and other complications.
Diabetic patients who have loss of protective sensation (neuropathy) can have fungal infections and not even know it. This can lead to severe infections, foot ulcers, or cellulitis (an infection which spreads through your blood stream). This is why daily inspections of their feet, especially between their toes, is so important. Make sure the skin stays dry between the toes by using a towel or Q-tip to absorb the moisture.
In longer or chronic stages, a fungal infection is typically seen as dry and fissured skin change. This can occur all over your feet and between your toes. Unfortunately, it does not respond to any skin lotions. If you have been treating dry patches of skin, you may have a fungal infection or other skin problems.
How do I get infected by a fungus?
Skin fungus is commonly caused by Trichophyton rubrum and Trichophyton mentagraphytes. You can contact these fungi in moist or humid communal environments such as showers, hot tub area, swimming pools, and locker rooms. It acts as an opportunist, meaning when the environment for its growth is right, it moves right in your skin or toenails to cause problems.
Because it can be everywhere, public health officials recommend that a foot covering be worn to try on new shoes and suggest people do not share shoes. Socks may act as a barrier to prevent anyone who has a fungal infection from inadvertently transferring it to another.
How can I treat a fungal infection?
If you feel you have a fungal infection, you can try using an over-the-counter anti-fungal agent found in most pharmacies’ foot care sections. There are many pharmaceutical companies that make anti-fungal agents and, if used as recommended, most infections resolve.
If the infection or symptoms continue to spread or it does not respond to anti-fungal treatment, it is recommended to see your healthcare provider. They may recommend that a skin culture analysis be performed. This is not painful, nor does it require any anesthesia and is performed in an office setting. It will identify the leading cause of your fungal infection.
How can I prevent a fungal infection?
The best prevention for fungal infection is to practice good hygiene. Washing and drying your skin well as well as applying antiperspirant powders between your toes helps to prevent fungal infections. Do not walk barefoot in places that might be contaminated with other peoples’ shoes; use a pair of your own slippers or sandals to walk in these areas. Be mindful of drying your feet thoroughly after being in communal areas such as in pools, in locker rooms, or on hotel carpets.
What are signs that my toenails might be infected?
Fungal nail infections (onychomycosis) is usually evident by noticing a change in the color of your toenail. It could also present itself as a non-painful streaking of the nail. Fungus of the nail is typically under the nail, called the nail bed. It is an area of your skin which allows for fungus to grow in a moist, protected environment. Just like areas like pools or hot tubs, your nail bed provides the right conditions for a fungal infection to spread further and deeper into your nail bed. Nail fungus can spread between toenails without much difficulty, but it is difficult to treat because the infection is in your nail bed, under your toenail. It can cause thick and painful nail growth as it progresses.
If you notice any change of color or streaking of your toenails, I would recommend seeing your healthcare provider as soon as you’re able.
How will my podiatrist treat a fungal infection?
The first evaluation done by your podiatrist should be to identify that you truly have an active fungal infection. Once it is suspected that you do have a fungal infection, a scraping of the underside of your toenail will be obtained and sent for a fungal culture.
Depending on the severity of the infection, your podiatrist may recommend that you use an anti-fungal skin wash followed by an anti-fungal nail medication. With more severe infections, your podiatrist may recommend that you take an oral anti-fungal for up to three months. This medication can have side effects and may not mix well with your other medications. It is best to bring an up-to-date list of any medications you are taking and discuss with your health care providers for the best plan for your care.
After treating a fungal infection, is it possible to get it again?
If you start to get symptoms of an infection again, do not delay in getting evaluated and treated. Infections can come up again even after treatment, so it is best to start a preventative treatment program to avoid getting a fungal infection again.
If you feel you might have symptoms of a fungal infection, please do not hesitate to request an appointment by clicking here.