Most people believe "out of sight, out of mind" when it comes to their feet.
But a local doctor says it's important to pay attention to an important part of our body that keeps us mobile.
"Because our feet are tucked away in boots and shoes, we actually need to be more thorough about taking care of them," says Michael Nirenberg, a doctor of podiatric medicine at Friendly Foot Care in Crown Point.
No matter the time of year, common skin problems located on the foot such as athlete's foot, calluses and corns can not only be irritating, but burdensome. Below are some frequent foot ailments and how they can be prevented and treated.
Athlete's foot is a fungal infection that makes the skin on feet raw, itchy, red and inflamed, Nirenberg says. It can lead to more serious infections as well.
"Athlete's foot and fungal toenails can become serious and tough to alleviate," he says. "It is important to catch these problems early."
Fungi grow best in warm, wet places — and one of the best spots on the human body is between the toes. It also spreads easily — people can get it by walking barefoot on contaminated surfaces near swimming pools or in locker rooms.
That fungus then grows in someone's shoes, especially ones that are so tight that air cannot move around the foot.
Nirenberg says taking simple precautions can help eliminate getting infected.
"Keep your shoes clean," he says. "Most people wash their clothing, but never think about their shoes. A simple trick to limit bacteria and fungus in your shoes is to spray them with Lysol."
Air shoes out daily and when possible, let them sit in direct sunlight, he says.
Nirenberg also recommends keeping feet well-hydrated by using a good moisturizer because once feet crack or split open, the risk for infection increases.
"Examine your feet daily. If you cannot see the bottom of your feet, use a mirror or have your spouse check them," he says. "Checking your feet daily is especially important for those people who are diabetic, have poor circulation or are elderly, as these people are at higher risk for foot infections."
Nirenberg recommends seeing a podiatrist if you may have athlete's foot. There are also several nonprescription antifungals on the market that can be applied to the skin. If they do not work, a doctor may prescribe a stronger antifungal medication.
Calluses and corns
Anyone who has ever worn shoes that don't fit quite right has probably experienced a callus or corn.
Calluses and corns are thickened areas of skin caused by pressure or friction on the skin. Corns usually appear on the tops or the sides of toes, while calluses can appear any place that experiences friction including the bottom of feet.
Wearing well-fitting, comfortable shoes is the easiest way to avoid these unsightly nuisances - yet many still choose style over comfort.
"Wearing ill-fitting shoes too often can cause the toes to crunch up, possibly causing permanent deformities, pinched nerves, corns, calluses and other problems," Nirenberg says.
When shoe shopping, Nirenberg recommends making sure the shoes fit properly by shopping for them late in the day when feet tend to be the most swollen.
"When you walk in the shoes you try on, try to avoid the soft, plush carpet found in most shoe stores," he says. "If shoes hurt in the store, they will hurt when you get them home. A shoe should never need to be broken in."
Many corns and calluses will gradually disappear once the friction disappears, but if they appear infected or do not disappear on their own, see a podiatrist or orthopedist.
Plantar warts are tough growths that develop on the foot's sole or on other pressure points. They are caused by a virus that enters through broken skin, and if left untreated, can be very painful.
The pressure put on a foot when walking also can cause a plantar wart to grow inward beneath a thick layer of skin called a callus.
The best way to avoid plantar warts is to avoid direct contact with other warts and keep feet clean and dry.
As with preventing other skin infections, avoid going barefoot in public areas as well, Nirenberg says.
Plantar warts don't always require treatment, but if they are bothersome, see a doctor who may advise removing them.