Spotting A Foot Infection

Redness, pain, and tenderness—Is it just a little irritation, or should you see a doctor?

Do you keep an eye on your feet? When we notice a little redness, irritation, or pain in our feet, it’s easy to write it off. If you stepped on a bit of gravel, or wore the wrong pair of shoes, you may only have a minor injury that will improve on its own—but how can you be sure?

Redness, pain, swelling, and irritation are all signs that our body is trying to protect and heal itself. This inflammatory process is a sign that something’s wrong—and you need to pay attention!

Inflammation can occur as a response to physical injury, but it can also be a sign of infection. Unfortunately, our feet can be the ideal breeding ground for the organisms that cause infections. If you have diabetes, it’s even more critical to be able to spot a foot infection—reduced blood flow makes it harder for your body to fight off the infection, which may require hospitalization and even surgery.

What Causes Foot Infections?

Foot infections can be viral, bacterial, or fungal. These organisms are everywhere in our environment, but most of the time our body’s immune system can fight them off. However, in certain conditions, a virus, bacteria or fungus is able to multiply and get past our body’s defenses, causing an infection.

Here are some conditions that allow a foot infection to take hold:

  • Warm, damp feet
  • Injured feet, especially open wounds
  • Poor circulation, from diabetes or peripheral artery disease
  • Exposure to unclean surfaces, such as soil or locker room showers
  • Poor hygiene

A little care can go a long way! Wearing properly-fitting shoes and wearing shower shoes at the gym can help protect your feet from injury and exposure. Keeping your feet cool and dry is also key—change your socks often, keep your feet clean, and dry them well after bathing.

People with diabetes should inspect their feet to make sure they don’t have any cuts or wounds that they’re unaware of. Peripheral neuropathy can cause numb feet, meaning you could be injured and not have pain. Even if you don’t have diabetes, you should always be on the lookout for redness, injuries, or discoloration which may indicate a foot infection.

Common Foot Infections

Fungal Infections

Fungal foot infections include very common conditions like athlete’s foot, as well as a wide variety of fungal toenail infections. Symptoms can include itching, discoloration, and broken nails. While these infections may not always be painful, they can lead to a variety of complications and can come back again and again without prescription medication. A podiatrist can discuss treatment options, which often includes a topical or oral prescription to fight off the fungus.

Viral Infections

Warts are growths caused by Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a common virus that has over 100 different types. Only a few types of HPV cause warts on the foot, which are also called plantar warts. Plantar warts can look different than a typical wart, especially if they’re on the bottom of your foot—people often mistake them for a corn or callus. They often cause pain when walking, and can even rupture and bleed, putting you at risk for a secondary infection. Your podiatrist can prescribe topical medication, and may also recommend a procedure to remove the wart. (It’s best to avoid over-the-counter treatments; most have strong chemicals that can damage your skin.)

Bacterial Infections

If you’re experiencing redness, swelling, and pain in your feet, it’s important to be on the lookout for a bacterial infection. These infections often begin with a minor injury, like a cut or ingrown toenail, which allows bacteria to get past the barrier of your skin. Many different types of bacteria can cause infections, and many foot infections actually involve more than one particular type.

Initial signs of infection are heat, redness, swelling, and pain. Pus or a bad-smelling discharge are major warning signs. If your foot infection continues to spread, you may suffer from whole-body symptoms such as fever and body aches.

Bacterial infection is especially a concern with diabetic feet. Diabetes causes reduced circulation, which makes it harder for your body to heal itself and provides an environment for bacteria to multiply. If left untreated, the bacteria can spread deeper into your foot, causing diabetic ulcers (also called neurogenic ulcers) and tissue damage.

These diabetes-related foot infections are the most common cause of hospitalizations for people with diabetes. If you have diabetes and are experiencing foot problems, it’s important to see your podiatrist immediately. By addressing infections as early as possible and taking precautionary measures, your podiatrist can help reduce your risk for hospitalization or surgery.

Patients with diabetes are also at higher risk for a bacterial skin infection called erythrasma, which causes raised pink or red areas that turn brown and flaky. Erythrasma can be mistaken for a fungal infection, as it often occurs in the same places as athlete’s foot, but it requires different medicine for treatment.

Foot Infection? See Your Podiatrist Now!

If you have any suspicion that you may have a foot infection, the best thing to do is see a podiatrist!

Podiatrists are foot specialists, highly experienced with all forms of foot problems and their underlying causes. Whether your infection is due to a medical condition or a physical injury, a visit to your podiatrist will put you on the path to happy feet!

Advanced Foot & Ankle podiatry clinics are located throughout Middle Tennessee, including Williamson county and Dickson county. Book an appointment today at a loca