Foot fungus foils fair weather fun

Doctors warn of the dangers of foot fungus.

We're frequently reminded to wear sunscreen this time of year, but there's another part of your body that needs protection. Before you run barefoot through the grass consider this.

Whether it's something you step on or a place to stub your toe, the hazards of summer are all around for bare feet.

"It could be something like a force coming down on top of the toe or just something that lifts the edge of the nail from the underlying skin bed," describes Dr. Jody McAleer a podiatrist with the Jefferson City Medical Group. "It allows the infection to get in at the tip of the nail and then slowly it works its way back to the nail root."

That becomes toenail fungus. His patient Betty Wilson of Bonnots Mill doesn't remember how her trouble started, but she says her infected toenails looked nasty.

"It was kind of a white streak going down, with some black stuff in it," says Wilson. "And on my other one it looked like on the right side of my big toe the toenail was real thick and looked yellow."

Wilson chose to have a laser treatment to clear up her nail fungus. The painless procedure is done twice, a few weeks apart. It takes just 15 minutes. The downside is it's expensive. The procedure costs about $600 and is not usually covered by insurance.

In addition to the laser, another effective treatment option is an oral medication and topical creams work for minor infections.

The laser treatment started the healing process for Wilson, but it took several months for the new nail growth to show up and improve the look of her toenails.

If left untreated, fungal nail infection can spread from toe to toe and from person-to-person. What is a nuisance for some people can be a serious health risk for others says Dr. McAleer.

"For patients such as our diabetic population, onychomycosis is a significant problem. It can lead to bacterial super infections and it could eventually lead to such things as amputations," warns McAleer.

His partner, Dr. William Duke says more than a quarter of his patients complain of some sort of foot fungus and and it's not just women who want to wear sandals, but working men too.

"Men are kind of the worst," he says, "because they wait until it gets really really bad and then they'll come in and say what do you have for me? I need to get this fixed really quickly. I'm working 10 to 12 hours a day and I'm doing construction, especially this time of year, and I can't afford to be off work at all."

Dr. Duke and Dr. McAleer say foot fungus can get its start with a bad pedicure, in a dirty shower or at a swimming pool. They also recommend you wear shoes when working or playing outside or in the garden.