There are many problems that can develop within the internal structures (bones, muscles, tendons, nerves, vessels) and tissues found in feet, but it is important not to neglect skin (the largest organ in the body) and nail issues—especially if you are diabetic! As is often the case with any problem—medical or otherwise—it’s in your best interest to address a problem at an early stage. Doing so typically provides the easiest resolution and greatest opportunity for success.
That is especially true when we discuss ugly toenails and unpleasant skin conditions. The sooner you start treatment, the easier it is to resolve the problem—so help us help you!
Come in at the earliest possible opportunity when you start noticing problems like toenail fungus, ingrown nails, plantar warts, tiny blisters with redness, and calluses.
As we noted in the introduction, early intervention can make a profound difference when it comes to treatment—and toenail fungus is a shining example. (Maybe not “shining,” though, since the condition causes nails to lose their shine…)
Recognizing a Fungal Nail Infection
The first thing that you will notice (and probably ignore) is discoloration at the end or side of the nail. When left untreated, a fungal toenail infection will eventually advance and cause your toenail(s) to become severely discolored, abnormally thickened, and separate from their nail beds. Further, the nails can change shape and start to become ingrown.
The ingrowing can be especially problematic because the barrier—the nail bed, that is—between the nail bed and the underlying bone is roughly the same thickness as 10 sheets of paper. A severe ingrown or thick nail can pierce through the nail bed, and create the potential for dangerous bone infections, which is simply bad news.
While a bone infection is one of those things you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy, you still do not want the embarrassment of having discolored toenails in the first place. This can be a quality of life issue, especially when it means you don’t want to wear sandals, go to the beach, or spend time at your friend’s pool in the summer. Instead, you’ll want to hide your unsightly nails under the perceived security of socks, shoes, and nail polish—but that can contribute to the problem!
The fungi responsible for nail infections—which are the same ones behind athlete’s foot—love dark, warm, and damp places. Encased in socks and shoes, your feet are in a dark, warm, and damp place, which is a dance party for fungus.
A Stubborn Infection
Now, there are footwear options that are better than others (specifically, you want to choose socks made from moisture-wicking materials and shoes that allow your feet to breathe), but this really doesn’t matter if fungal spores have already made themselves at home in your nail, skin, and shoe. Toenail fungus does not go away on its own!
Think of it this way: let’s say you were on a Caribbean island with unlimited food and drinks, it wasn’t costing you a dime, and all of your favorite people—including Dr. Leibovitz—were also there. Would you ever leave on your own? Of course not!
So how does this problem happen in the first place?
Well, fungus is everywhere (as is the case with certain microscopic organisms). This is usually fine and it doesn’t affect us—until it has an opportunity to enter the body.
In the case of fungal toenails, that opportunity comes in the form of some kind of separation between a toenail and its respective nail bed. This is typically the result of physical trauma, like dropping something heavy on your foot, accidentally stubbing a toe, repetitive micro trauma in a dress shoe, running … you get the idea. Other contributing factors can include constant application of nail polish (which traps the fungi in the nail) and immune or circulation issues.
Keeping the trauma part in mind, the nails most likely to be affected are the ones on the big and little toes (since they are more susceptible to physical trauma), but any nail can potentially become infected.