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Foot Fungus, A Brief Introduction

Although we all enjoy a party, the question becomes do we invite the Fungi?  Fungus make up one of the six Kingdoms in the taxonomic rank system we remember from our grade-school textbooks and various mnemonics. Like ourselves, fungus are eukaryotic meaning that inside their cells exists a distinctively membrane bound nucleus (the cell’s brain) and organelles (specialized subunits with functionality similar to organs). Made more unique by the presence of chitin in their cell walls, which encases the membrane bound cellular brain and organs, whereas, human cells are encased by a membrane made up of various proteins and lipids (fats) known as the lipid bilayer. The presence of chitin in the cell wall lends an important difference from a pharmaceutical perspective, as it allows drugs to more adeptly target the fungus itself when treating fungal infections.

Gracing our tables, hidden in our medicine cabinets, and sprouting on our lawns, fungus can live in a wide variety of areas and demonstrate important roles both in ecology and in human use. Despite key roles in medicine, such as antibiotics and for foodstuffs, such as pizza toppings, fungus can occasionally become a source of disease. Fungal infections of the skin and nails are caused by a genera of fungus classified as dermatophytes, which translates from Greek as “skin plants”.  Three types of fungus are commonly held responsible for causing superficial infections of the hair, skin and nails. These fungi feed off a protein called keratin, which makes up our hair, nails and skin. The three players include the following genera: Trichophyton, Microsporum, and Epidermophyton. Each organism leads to a unique disease presentation on the foot and ankle. Living on a superficial layer of skin, the body reacts to the waste produced by the fungus’ consumption of keratin. The body’s reaction manifests as an inflammation response leading to the hallmark itch and redness of athlete’s foot. The skin on the foot can become swollen and tender, blisters may form and the skin between the toes can become wet taking on a cheesy appearance. Fungal infection of the nails may manifest as a discoloration and cloudy appearance, a musty order, additionally the nails may thicken and become painful when wearing shoes.

The itch and the burn of Athlete’s foot or the embarrassment of unattractive toenails are things that most of us have experienced either first hand, from watching commercials or from browsing drug store aisles. Known in medical textbook as Tinea Pedis (athlete’s foot) when the skin on the foot is infected and onychomycosis when the nails are afflicted with fungal infection, these conditions are best diagnosed and treated by a podiatrist. The following entries of this blog will elaborate on nail health, treatment and prevention of fungal infections of the foot and toenails, helping you to make sure only fun-guys (or girls) get invited to your next party.

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