Bryce Kazungu came home with a new pair of shoes and he was excited. These were the work boots he had been looking for and they were comfortable. However, two weeks down the road, he started experiencing itching around his small toe; on the skin and sole but brushed it off thinking he needed to give closed shoes a break for a while.
“At the end of the day after he resumed using closed shoes, the new pair in particular, the itching was unbearable,” Kazungu says.
On removing the shoes, his sole had blisters while the upper part had flaky looking skin. “I was alarmed that I rushed to the nearest clinic only to discover that I had a fungal infection,” Kazungu says adding: “I received an anti-fungal powder that I used religiously and dried my toes thoroughly after bathing.”
However, because he had to visit construction sites regularly, this new pair of shoes was his best option and as you would have it, the infection blossomed. Trying to see why there was no change, Kazungu stopped putting on the shoes for a week and resumed thereafter. The infection seemed to disappear during the break but came to life the very day he resumed wearing them.
“I confirmed that these shoes were the problem because whenever I took a break from them, I still used closed shoes,” Kazungu says. He shelved the shoes and the infection died out completely.
What is a fungal foot infection?
“It is medically known as tinea pedis caused by a fungus with the ability to live and feed on the protein keratin found on animal skin, hair and nails,” Dr Edward Ogwang of The Skin Specialist, explains.
“Fungal foot infections are more common in adolescents and adults although can affect people of all ages,” Dr Sabrina Kitaka, an adolescent specialist at Mulago University College of Health and Sciences, explains. Fungal spores (the reproductive body) can persist for months or years in bathrooms, changing rooms, swimming pools.
Although many of the risk factors for a fungal foot infection are preventable, you are more likely to develop a fungal foot infection if you have diabetes, have a disease that causes poor circulation, swim in a public swimming pool, share items such as towels, socks and shoes, have moist fingers or toes for an extended time, have a weakened immune system, wear closed-toe shoes such as tennis shoes and boots, smoke, have family members with it, walk barefoot on a communal floor or spend a lot of time in the water.
Dr Ogwang says there are various patterns of the fungal foot infection; and may affect one or both feet. The chronic hyperkeratotic variety appears as patchy fine dry scaling on the sole of the foot whereas in the ‘moccasin variant’, the skin of the entire sole, heel and sides of the foot is dry and scaly but does not include the top of the foot.
The third variety presents with clusters of blisters on the instep or sides of the foot. Athlete’s foot is a type of fungal foot infection with moist peeling irritable skin between the toes, most often the cleft between the fourth and fifth toes while the fifth type appears as round dry patches on top of the foot just like a ring worm.
Dr Kitaka says wearing shoes without socks causes the moisture from your sweat to remain around the foot for long. This increases the risk of infection forming. Therefore, get a pair of cotton or wool socks and avoid re-wearing socks.
Do not share socks, shoes, or towels with others and change your socks when your feet get sweaty. Alternate between at least two pairs of shoes, wearing each pair every other day, to give your shoes time to dry out between use. Wash your feet with soap and water daily and dry them thoroughly, especially between the toes.
Wear sandals in public showers, around public swimming pools, and in other public places. Additionally, make sure your shoes fit well and are made of material that lets air move through it, like canvas or leather.
Get ample sleep because as much as a poor diet can contribute to a fungal infection, so can sleep deprivation. Less sleep means less strength for your body’s immune system. If you cannot get six to seven hours of sleep each night, start the day by taking a comprehensive multivitamin to lessen cravings.
Become more active. Dr Kitaka says feet get fungal infections owing to their location. Your circulatory system struggles to work effectively and efficiently around your toes. Therefore, toxins that would normally be removed linger yet fungus feeds on them. Being active increases the strength of your circulation system thus reducing infection risks.
“Stop the potential of spreading the infection; anything you apply to your foot that isn’t an anti-fungal item could spread the infections to other body parts. For this reason, avoid using things like nail polish until the infection resolves,” she advises.
Dr Paul Kasenene of Wellcare Clinic suggests some remedies to stop or prevent foot fungal infections:
Baking soda - vinegar soak: Baking soda does not kill the fungus (fungicidal) but prevents fungus from growing and spreading (fungistatic). That is because it is alkaline while fungus only flourishes in more acidic environs. It is thus counter-intuitive as vinegar helps kill off the fungus without altering the Ph. of the environment in a harmful way.
Vinegar: Vinegar is acidic thus helps to kill the foot fungus when it is given enough exposure. While it is a bother for those with sensitive skin, for the most part, it is well-tolerated. You can soak your feet directly in vinegar or dilute it with one-part vinegar to two-parts of water.
Probiotics: These are live cultures that attack fungus by cutting off the supply of any yeast-feeding bacteria and help you to replenish the healthy bacteria needed by the body to prevent infections. Probiotics are best got from the foods we eat and they include yogurt, pickles, and dark chocolate. Introduce such foods into your diet for your system to have an adequate amount of probiotics. You can also enhance the effects by taking a probiotic supplement.
Salt: It is effective for mild foot fungus. Get a heaped tablespoon of salt and add it to half a bucket of fairly hot water. Soak your feet in for a while. Initially, you will get a burning sensation more so if you have been scratching them but the itching will reduce with time.
Coconut oil: Coconut has lots of medium chain fatty acids which are great natural fungicides. These disturb the fat layer of the fungal membrane which is crucial for fungus survival eventually leading to cell disintegration thus destroying the fungus.
See a doctor: Once the home remedies and general measures are not working, Dr Ogwang advises one to see a doctor who might prescribe an antifungal cream or lotion or antifungal pill depending on the severity of the condition. Treating concurrent nail infection is also very important when dealing with fungal foot infections.