by Dr. Christopher Milkie
Fungal feet can be the simplest, and yet most difficult to treat problem a podiatrist and their patient will deal with. Fungal feet can itch, smell, become discolored, and even cause nails to crumble away. The worst part of all of these symptoms is fungi’s resistant to treatment.
Fungi are not like other infections of the body, which makes them harder to treat. A bacterial infection is compromised of cells known as Prokaryotes. These type of cells differ structurally and functionally from your own human cells known as Eukaryotes. The difference between these types of cells makes bacteria easier to target while avoiding damage to your own Eukaryotic human cells. Viruses are also different. Viruses are incomplete cells that require a host cell to be able to replicate. Creating resistance in your own body to stop viral replication can help cure viral infections. Fungal infections however, are Eukaryotic cells just like your very own human cells. Therefore finding a way to attack fungal infections without doing damage to a patient’s cells can be a huge challenge.
The fungal infections that typically affect podiatric patients are categorized as Dermatophytes. These fungi typically infect skin, hair, and nail cells. The problem with a fungal infection of this type is the fungi’s ability to break down keratin. Keratin is the primary structural protein of the skin, hair, and nails. Without keratin, these structures tend to break down and fall apart; leading to flaking itchy skin and other common symptoms. Typical Dermatophytes include: Tinea Corporis (affecting the body), Tinea Cruris (jock itch), Tinea Pedis (athlete’s foot), Tinea Capitis (affecting the scalp), and Tinua Unguium (affecting the nails).
Dermatophytes are not the only type of fungus to affect humans. There are subcutaneous fungal infections and even systemic fungal infections, which we will return to in the future. Now that we have covered the basics of fungal infections, check back next week as we explore how a podiatrist can diagnose and treat your dermatophytic infections and make that athletes foot go away!