ONE of the pleasures of hot weather and holidays is to lounge around next to a pool, enjoying the sun and cool water.
But foot health experts have urged that you avoid walking around the pool barefoot between dips, as it could leave you with a nasty infection that could ruin your holiday – and last for months afterwards.
Though they can provide much-needed respite from the heat, communal areas like swimming pools can be fertile ground for infection-inducing fungi, which thrive on moist surfaces.
Aside from causing warts and verrucas, the fungi in and around pools can also land you with an unpleasant fungal nail infection.
New research by foot care brand Excilor has revealed that a whopping 25 per cent of Brits suffer from the affliction to their nails, but only 11 per cent know what's behind their yellowing talons.
And a staggering 89 per cent don't even know what a fungal nail infection is.
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They'll usually affect your toenails but you can get them on your fingernails too, according to the NHS.
You'll usually notice some yellowing at the edge of the nail, but the infection will often spread to the middle, making it discoloured and sometimes thicker.
Your nail can eventually become brittle and breakable, sometimes even lifting off the bed and causing swelling.
As pharmacist Noel Wicks put it: "In most cases, fungal nail infections tend to look unhygienic. The infection usually starts at the rim of the nail, which changes colour to whitish-yellow, brown or green."
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The NHS notes that thought fungal nail infections aren't necessarily serious, they can take a long time to treat.
And according to Excilor, they can have an impact on your day-to-day life, leaving sufferers in pain and embarrassed to don open-toed shoes.
For people responding to a poll conducted by the foot care brand, 52 per cent said that the pain was the worst thing about a nail infection, while a third (32 per cent) said they were were ashamed of having the condition.
Over half (57 per cent) said they'd stopped wearing open-toed shoes due to the infection and 56 revealed it had stopped them in summer activities such as going swimming and being active.
GP and top foot expert Dr Gill Jenkins explained: “Fungal nail infections are notoriously hard to get rid of without treatment and they can cause pain, swelling and itchiness.
"For many sufferers, these painful symptoms have an impact on their lives making it harder to be active on a daily basis.
"Not only does a painful foot stop you from exercising, but it often makes it hard to fall asleep too.”
Of the fungal nail infection sufferers surveyed by Excilor:
- 36 per cent said they had a hardening and thickening of the nail
- 36 per cent had toe pain
- 36 per cent had red skin around the nail
- 30 per cent said they had pus
- 23 per of cases had their nails separate from the nail bed
Dr Jenkins warned: “Should you be unlucky enough to get an infection you need to treat it as soon as possible.
"They are often incredibly contagious, so contagious in fact, that even touching the feet, and then touching other parts of the body, can cause the fungus to spread.”
It can migrate between your feet and hands and even between people.
How can I stop a fungal nail infection spreading?
Pharmacist Noel Wicks said the fungus will grow under or into the nail as it develops, "causing the nail plate to thicken and crumble".
"This can sometimes cause the nail to partially detach, or sometimes, come off completely," he explained.
But he stressed that treatment should be implemented early to avoid this level of fungus development.
"If not treated these infections can lead to further complications such as permanent loss of the nail, a resurgence of the infection and even in extreme cases a spread of infection to other areas of the body, or even the bloodstream," Noel warned.
He added: "If not addressed fungal nail infections can actually last for years.”
The pharmacist also noted that people living with diabetes – of which there five million in the UK – need to be especially wary of nail infections, as they can lead to more serious health issues such as foot ulcers.
Aside from nail discolouration and flaking, Dr Jenkins also suggested you look for changes in your skin, such as hardening, itching and flaking.
You can pick up treatment at your nearest pharmacy – your pharmacist might suggest an anti-fungal or nail softening cream. But you should see a GP if they don't work or the infection spread to to other nails.
Note it can take between three and 12 months for the infection to fully heal.
To treat a fungal nail infection,first clean the nail and remove any nail polish.
Coat the nail and the underside of the nail rim with your treatment solution and allow it to dry out before putting your socks or shoes back on.
Apply the solution to the infected area twice a day and for best results, treat the infected area for a minimum of three months.
It's best to continue the course of treatment until the nail has recovered completely.
How do I avoid a fungal nail infection the first place?
Most of us will completely forget about foot hygiene on a day-to-day basis, but staying on top of it can help keep nasty infections at bay.
Excilor suggested you use a nail brush to keep the tops of nails clean – as well as underneath the nails – and be sure to trim them regularly and keep them neat and smooth.
You should also keep in mind that communal areas like swimming pools and changing rooms in the gym are fungi hotbeds, putting your feet at risk of infection.
You should always wear flip flips on wet public floors, to keep your feet dry and off the floor.
Dr Genkins gave the following tips:
- Keep nails clean and trim them regularly
- Avoid wearing shoes that make your feet sweat
- Don’t share towels, flannels, bedlinen, socks or shoes with other people
- Avoid wearing fake nails
- Instead of going barefoot, wear flip-flops in communal areas like the swimming pool or sauna
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Noel had the following advice as you prepare to bare your feet a bit more over the summer months.
- No one wants smelly feet – keep them clean by washing them once a day and don’t forget to dry them between the toes to avoid getting Athlete’s foot
- Wear socks made from at least 70 per cent cotton so your feet can breathe and avoid nylon tights or stockings
- Are your shoes starting to smell? Kill the bacteria by cleaning them with surgical spirit and cotton wool
- Once a month give your nails a break from polish for anything between a few days to a week to help boost their health
- Ditch heels for supportive trainers or shoes – this will be better for your feet and your posture
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