Summer is here and that means it’s sandal season. But hot weather, sweaty feet and new shoes can make feet ripe with discomfort and disease. Many people develop skin infections from walking barefoot at swimming pools or in locker rooms, have callouses and blisters on their feet from uncomfortable summer sandals, while others develop toenail fungus from nail salons. I have seen these issues in abundance during past summers in both men and women, and it can be more than a nuisance.
Feet are so susceptible because there is less circulation to this area of the body than, say, the hands. The immune system cannot tackle invading bacteria, viruses and fungi as well here, especially when feet are insulated in dark, sweaty, warm shoes- a perfect environment for infections to thrive. These parasites and can be spread through skin-to-skin or skin-to-surface contact. The good news is that some of this foot trouble can be prevented easily. For instance, breaking in new sandals or summer shoes a little at a time before wearing them for a full day can help. At the pool or the gym, wearing shower shoes and never walking barefoot in these public facilities can help avoid contagious contact. Drying your feet thoroughly after showering and wearing socks that wick away moisture when you don sneakers is also useful.
Nail salons are tricky since the foot baths may or may not be properly sanitized between customers. Also, the manicure tools must be disinfected with rubbing alcohol. Sharp instruments used to cut cuticles may contain blood and filthy germs. If you do not witness this cleaning, you should speak up. I have a friend who brings her own tools to the salon so she knows what is touching her skin and nails; however, that doesn’t address the sanitation of the foot baths, etc. You cannot be too careful.
Athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) and toenail fungus (tinea unguium or onychomycosis) seem to be the most common infections of the feet during summer. In Chinese medicine, these are usually considered a form of damp-heat invasions. If you become infected with Athlete’s foot, a scaly itchy red rash usually between the toes, be aware that you are contagious. A simple antifungal cream usually can treat this issue, or try a combination of topical vinegar and Chinese herbs. Toenail fungus is much more difficult to cure. There are oral drugs and topical prescriptions, but these have side effects. Toenail fungus usually starts with a white or yellow spot on the nail. It eventually progresses and the nail becomes thick, deformed and pulls away from the skin, causing pain and sometimes an odor. I personally have seen the best results with holistic remedies: use a Q-tip soaked with tea tree oil and paint the affected nail twice a day for 1-2 months. As the nail grows out, cut it down and continue to treat the affected area until the new nail grows in and looks healthy. This can be done with grapefruit seed extract or even the original (yellow) Listerine, so I’m told. Do not paint the nails during this treatment period, as the nail needs to breath. Sanitize your tools by washing them in antibacterial soap and hot water and rubbing alcohol.