“They have been encased in shoes and boots all winter, and their general health, perhaps, overlooked. In fact, those discolored or deformed toenails, those bunions, corns and callouses and red, peeling skin may be signs of more substantial health problems,” warns Smitley, board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with particular interest in laser, cosmetic dermatology and general dermatology.
From nutritional status to a possible cancer diagnosis, feet are a view – from the bottom up – of your overall health, says Smitley. She cites new research that 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, Smitley states.
“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 a person’s quality of life,” Smitley says. “Trying to cover discolored toenails with nail polish is not a treatment. No matter how minor they may seem, foot and nail problems should be examined by a dermatologist as an important first step in maintaining your health.”
Not all foot disorders are potential catastrophes, 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 oftentimes 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, Smitley explains. “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, she says.
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.
Nevertheless, many foot problems can be avoided by taking a few precautions, Smitley says. She recommends:
- 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.
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.