May is foot health month. Usually this campaign is promoted by podiatrist associations, but foot health is important for everyone! As we are heading into the outdoor months, our feet are exposed more and having a bit of foresight can prevent serious injuries. The focus will be on daily advice for the outdoors.
Dry skin is something we talk about often in dermatology as well. Typically dry skin is talked about during the winter months, but when it comes to feet, the summer months can be a challenge. The sole, and especially the heels, are an area that frequently dry and even crack. It’s not uncommon for people who typically don’t have dry skin elsewhere to have dehydrated skin in this area.
- Apply moisturizers, preferably immediately after showering or bathing, to seal in the moisture. Moisturizers help add moisture to the skin’s upper layers, but another important function is to seal in existing moisture by not allowing it to evaporate out.
- Keep the showers short and the temperatures lukewarm. Exposure to hot water causes the skin to dry quickly.
- Sometimes a gentle exfoliation in the bath, using a pumice stone may help take the edge off, but don’t overdo this.
- Sometimes there may be another cause – athlete’s foot, eczema, psoriasis, infections, or other factors such as diabetes, inactive sweat glands, or even physical problems. If the dryness is severe – cracked heels can be painful or even bleed, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor.
Nail fungus is a widespread problem that affects the feet (and less commonly the fingers) and a topic that we’ve covered a few times at DermLetter. It accounts for up to 50% of all nail problems and affects up to 10% of the population.1 With nail fungus, fungi called dermatophytes nest inside the nail and feed off of keratin in the nail, damaging and eventually destroying the nail over time. It’s primarily a cosmetic concern in its earlier stages but can cause pain or discomfort as it progresses, and for patients with diabetes, it can become a serious medical problem. Fungi are everywhere, so, unfortunately, there is no bulletproof way to prevent infection, but there are ways to reduce your chances of getting one.
- Fungi love warm, damp areas. Swimming pools and public showers often present ideal conditions for fungi to thrive. It’s a good idea to wear flip-flops or sandals to protect your feet and reduce your chances of picking up an unwanted guest.
- Fungal infections are technically contagious – but the realistic chances of picking them up from person to person is quite low.2 For people in higher-risk groups (diabetes, weakened immune system, elderly, previous history with nail fungus), they may need to be more careful.
- If you do see possible symptoms of nail fungus, see a doctor. Treatment is far more effective when started at its early stages when the fungi haven’t done much damage yet.
- A podiatrist or dermatologist may be referred to if the case is difficult to assess.
Summer is just around the corner, and there’s already plenty of good weather to get yourself out of the house. Nobody should be paranoid about going outside, but it’s good to be aware of the types of foot injuries that become more common as people increase their outdoor time.
- Be aware of your physical limitations if you are trying a new exercise or activity. Most injuries occur with beginners or people who have come back to a sport after a long hiatus.
- Wear proper shoes when exercising. Letting your foot get some air is fine and even healthy, but your feet need the proper support of firm-fitting shoes when you are exercising. Flip flops and their sandal variants will not provide the support that your feet need.
- We’ve probably beaten this horse dead for some time, but just a reminder not to forget the areas of your legs and feet that are exposed. It’s easy to miss the parts like the top of the toes exposed when you are wearing flip-flops or sandals outside.
General Tips from podiatrists:
- Change your socks and shoes often to minimize foot odor.3
- Don’t shop for shoes in the morning. The feet swell up as the day goes on – meaning that if your new shoes are comfortable in the morning, it may not be by afternoon.4
- Wash and dry your feet often. Basic hygiene plays a vital role in keeping your feet healthy and reduces odor and the chances of getting fungus.
- Cut your toenails straight across. Angling down the edges to cut deeper, while a common practice, increases the chances of developing painful ingrown nails.
- Cotton socks for warmer weather; wool socks for cold weather.
Enjoy the outdoors and the weather, but give your feet some love this month. They work hard for you, but foot health is easy to take for granted. You only notice how important they are when something is wrong – but a few smart adjustments like what you wear and how you wash can make a big difference.
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