Tips for Getting Feet Beach-Ready – and Healthy!

It’s summer and time to hit the beach – but, oh, those feet! They may not be ready for prime time viewing.

Your feet have been encased in shoes and boots all winter, and their general health had perhaps been overlooked. In fact, those discolored or deformed toenails, those bunions, corns and callouses and that red, peeling skin may be signs of more substantial health problems.

From nutritional status to a possible cancer diagnosis, feet are a view – from the bottom up – of your overall health. New research examines the link between a type of esophageal cancer, known as tylosis, and keratin, a protein that is found in the outer layers of skin and plays an important role in formation of calluses, including foot calluses. The study was done by scientists at Queen Mary University of London in the United Kingdom and published January 27, 2017, in the journal Nature Communications.

Other studies have demonstrated relationships between discolored or pitted and striated toenails and breast cancer, melanoma, arthritis, peripheral vascular disease, heart disease, anemia, kidney failure, liver cirrhosis and diabetes.

Ignoring what is happening to your toenails and feet cannot only lead to physical damage, especially if the symptoms are connected to greater systemic problems, but can cause social and psychological stress as well and impact you quality of life. Trying to cover discolored toenails with nail polish is not a treatment. No matter how minor foot and nail problem may seem, they should be examined by a dermatologist as an important first step in maintaining your health.

Not all foot disorders are potential catastrophes, of course, and many can be successfully treated with timely care. For example, ingrown toenails, which most frequently occur on the big toe, are a common but painful foot problem that often can be remedied successfully at home by washing the foot with soap and water at least twice a day; soaking the foot in warm water several times a day; wearing sandals, if possible; and placing a tiny roll of cotton or gauze between the skin and the affected nail to keep the nail elevated. However, if there is no improvement in the condition after a few days, a doctor should be contacted. If left untreated, an ingrown toenail can result in infection or, worse, an abscess that requires surgery.

Other common foot issues include:

  • Fungal nail infections, which may require oral medication and even nail surgery to eliminate
  • Bunions — bony bumps at the base of the big toe
  • Calluses or corns, which are thick, hard, dead areas of skin
  • Plantar warts, which may have to be removed by procedures like freezing, burning or surgery
  • Pitted keratolysis, characterized by white patches, studded with superficial pits, on the soles of the feet. This condition, which often proves socially embarrassing, develops when feet are sweaty and remain unventilated in vinyl, plastic or rubber footwear.
  • Athlete’s foot, a fungal skin infection that causes itching, skin peeling, redness, even blistering.

Some people are more at risk for foot disorders due to heredity, sex or age.  Research published in 2011 in the journal Arthritis Care & Research suggested that bunions are more prevalent in women and older people. Men and young adults, primarily those in their 20s and 30s, are more susceptible to ingrown toenails. Ingrown toenails also run in families. Athlete’s foot is more common in males than females.

Nevertheless, many foot problems can be avoided by taking a few precautions. I recommend:

  • Keeping feet clean and dry, including wearing socks that keep feet from sweating.
  • Ignoring “high fashion” in favor of properly-fitting footwear – preferably leather shoes — that also allows the foot to “breathe” and does not rub against or stress parts of the foot
  • Trimming toenails correctly – straight across, not rounding the corners of the nails
  • Using shower shoes in public areas like locker rooms to avoid exposing feet to the fungi that breed in these areas.
  • Shedding some pounds, if overweight, to lighten the stress-bearing load on your feet.

Your feet reflect your health. Examine them regularly and contact your physician whenever you notice a problem that persists.

Christina Smitley is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with particular interests in psoriasis, cutaneous neoplasms, and lasers/cosmetic dermatology.

Advanced Dermatology P.C. and the Center for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery (New York & New Jersey) is one of the leading dermatology centers in the nation, offering highly experienced physicians in the fields of cosmetic and laser dermatology as well as plastic surgery and state-of-the-art medical technologies. www.advanceddermatologypc.com.

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