Skin fungi: mycosis of the foot

Mycosis of the foot: suspicious spots, flaking skin, nails that change colour and texture: if the feet begin to show these characteristics, it could be a fungal infection

Fungus on the feet and toenails is a fairly widespread problem nowadays, which should not, however, be overlooked as, in the long run, it could not only worsen but also spread.

To reduce the risk of contracting fungal infections, it is very important to adopt good hygiene practices, but this may not always be enough.

In the unfortunate event that you do contract a fungal infection in your feet, you must take immediate action to prevent the situation from worsening.

Find out in this article everything you need to know about foot fungus: what it is, how it spreads, how to prevent and treat it, etc.

Fungi on the feet: what are they?

Our feet are among the areas of the body most exposed to fungal infections.

This part of the body is in fact frequently exposed to damp or potentially contaminated environments that favour the proliferation of fungi.

Fungi, also called mycetes, are nothing more than a group of microorganisms that are widespread in the environment and are also present on human skin.

Normally, they pose no danger and cause no harm.

However, under special conditions favourable to their proliferation, it is possible for these fungi to turn into invasive pathogens causing mycosis.

The fungal infection can affect different parts of our body: scalp, back, limbs, face, neck, groin, trunk, and, in general, the areas of the body most prone to sweat stagnation and dampness.

The feet, as mentioned earlier, are therefore the most common area to be affected by fungal infections.

Although we tend to define fungal infection generically, there are actually two types of mycosis that mainly affect the lower limbs: the so-called tinea pedis and tinea unguium.

Let us see together what the main differences between these two are.

Most common forms of mycosis of the feet

The mycotic fungal infection tinea pedis, which affects the feet, is better known under the name Athlete’s Foot.

In the old days, those who were most affected were those who habitually wore sneakers, i.e. athletes.

Today, however, with the fashion for trainers and the widespread habit of wearing shoes made of non-breathable materials, many people suffer from it.

The heat and humidity to which feet are often subjected leads to the proliferation of fungi called Dermatophytes.

This type of fungus tends to attack portions of the skin and attached areas, such as the nails, where there is an abundance of keratin (a protein that makes up the horny layer of the skin and nails) on which it feeds.

When dermatophytes attack the nails we speak of tinea unguium or, more simply, of onychomycosis.

It should be pointed out that although dermatophytes are the main fungi responsible for onychomycosis, it can, in a much smaller number of cases, also be caused by moulds and yeasts.

These two microorganisms can also be the cause of fungal infections.

In the case of onychomycosis, the mycetes insinuate and proliferate in the space between the nail plate and the nail bed, causing the nail to become opaque and progressively deteriorate.

It is much easier to contract onychomycosis on the toenails of the feet than on those of the hands for the simple fact that the feet, as we have already said, are more exposed to the conditions that favour its proliferation.

The most common causes of mycosis on the feet

As we have said many times before, hot and humid environments favour the proliferation of dermatophytes, yeasts and moulds: aetiological agents that generally cause foot mycosis.

However, there are several and very varied risk factors that lead to the onset of the infection.

Among these we can include:

  • Poor personal hygiene;
  • Occlusive and poorly breathable footwear;
  • Excessive sweating;
  • Variation in skin pH, often caused by the intense and prolonged use of very aggressive detergents;
  • Prolonged antibiotic-based therapies, which can alter the bacterial flora, favouring the proliferation of mycetes;
  • Use of cortisone-based drugs;
  • Obesity, which favours the proliferation of mycetes in the skin folds, which are more numerous and deeper;
  • Diabetes, which weakens the body’s defences and often causes cracks in the skin of those affected that are easily attacked by mycetes, especially on the lower limbs.

It is especially in summer that one is more likely to contract foot fungus, not only because of the high temperatures and high humidity of the season, but also because of ‘summer habits’.

You are much more likely to be in crowded places such as swimming pools, beaches and changing rooms: environments where even a barefoot walk is enough to contract a fungal infection.

However, it is not excluded that one can contract a mycosis in other seasons of the year as well, which is why it is important to always follow correct hygiene rules to prevent its occurrence.

Of course, sometimes this may not be enough.

Fungi on the feet: how to recognise them? The symptoms

How can you tell if you are dealing with a fungal infection? The symptoms, of course, vary depending on the area involved. In the case of tinea pedis the affected areas will be the spaces between the toes or the soles of the feet.

This type of mycosis presents itself initially with maceration of the skin, itching and a bad smell.

If not treated in time, the infection can lead to cracking, a burning sensation and itching.

In some more severe cases, the affected person may experience blisters, ulcers and fissures, lesions that may promote secondary infections.

Moreover, if not treated in time, tinea pedis can promote the onset of onychomycosis and become even more difficult to treat.

The nail or nails affected by onychomycosis can be easily recognised as they become dull, tend to thicken, emit a foul odour and are easily prone to flaking and breaking.

Sometimes the colour of the nail may change, becoming yellow or dark brown. Again, if not properly treated, the infection can cause permanent damage to the nail and negatively affect the individual’s quality of life.

Onychomycosis is also a progressive disease and can spread to other nails and healthy parts of the skin if not properly treated.

What to do if you contract fungus on your feet?

So what to do if you suspect you have contracted foot fungus? It is a good idea to consult a medical specialist immediately.

Fungal foot fungus is treatable, but the treatment to be effective must be determined according to the type of pathogenic fungus responsible for the infection and according to the area affected by the fungus.

Generally, the doctor prescribes the patient with antifungal drugs capable of inhibiting fungal proliferation.

These types of drugs can either be taken orally or be for topical use, i.e. in the form of creams or medicated glazes to be applied to the affected area.

Topical drugs are most often used in the case of onychomycosis, while oral antifungals are mainly used for cutaneous mycoses.

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