soles of feet poking out from under the covers

Are you afraid to put your best foot forward? This is the time of year when millions of Americans wish their feet were more presentable. Normally we take our tootsies for granted. We count on them to carry us around, and we keep them covered and out of sight. But with warm weather here, it’s time to kick off the shoes and go barefoot on the beach. If you’re headed for the swimming pool or the backyard barbecue, flip-flops or sandals are more appropriate than sweaty sneakers.

But lots of us are embarrassed to bare our toes in public. The problem is fungus. Such organisms love warm, dark places. Mildew grows on damp shower curtains. Mushrooms thrive on the underside of rotting logs. Shoes provide a perfect environment for the fungus that causes athlete’s foot or thick brown misshapen toenails. In most cases, toenail fungus is just a cosmetic issue. There’s no denying it: fungus-infected toenails aren’t pretty. One reader complained, “I’m a distance runner and have toenails that are fit to be seen only on Halloween.”

Some people try home remedies first. Soaking the toes nightly in a solution of one part vinegar to two parts water may help some cases. Others respond to Vicks VapoRub or tea tree oil. If applied on the nail twice a day, one of these treatments may help clear toenail fungus. Some of our other favorites involve applications of hydrogen peroxide or amber Listerine foot soaks.

Toenails grow slowly. Even powerful prescription pills like itraconazole (Sporanox) or terbinafine (Lamisil) may take months to show benefit, and it can take up to a year for a toenail to grow out completely fungus-free. Oral medicine can also have some pretty unpleasant side effects.

Another problem many people suffer this time of year is foot odor. One mother complained about her daughter’s smelly feet: “She’s seven years old and has hot, sweaty feet which smell really bad! Perhaps the odor is worse now because it’s summer and she’s wearing tennis shoes all day. It’s almost enough to kill you when she takes her shoes off in the car!”

Controlling sweating by wearing sandals or applying antiperspirant compounds can reduce foot odor. Another mother recounted her family’s solution:

“Wash and dry the feet. Soak them or wipe them down with a solution of ordinary rubbing alcohol. This gets rid of any bacteria left after the washing. Dry the feet, then rub on a small amount of any generic brand of acne treatment cream containing 10 percent benzoyl peroxide. It kills the bacteria that cause odor. “Do NOT put treated feet into smelly shoes. Use new shoes free of any odor to avoid re-infection. Continue the cream application once a day for a week. After that, two or three treatments a week are enough.”

One reader with 11 years’ experience in the shoe repair business suggests wearing cotton socks and avoiding shoes made of synthetic materials (including the lining). Allowing shoes to “rest” and dry out for a day before putting them on again can also help.

We have more suggestions on solving foot problems in our FREE Guide to Solutions for Smelly Feet.

If you would like to learn more about how to get rid of nail fungus, we have lots of remedies in our Guide to Hair and Nail Care.

It’s time to let your tootsies enjoy the summer. Liberate them from those smelly shoes.

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  1. RJ

    I read somewhere recently that soaking feet in warm water with cornmeal will kill toenail fungus.
    There is apparently a fungus or maybe a bacteria in the cornmeal that kills the toenail fungus. The recommendation was to soak the feet once a week, for two or three weeks to take care of the problem.

  2. Doyal G. Sr

    Toenail Fungus is easy to cure. Get an electric tooth brush at the discount store for $8.00. Brush with toothpaste and apple cider vinegar (or other antiseptic) twice a day for a few days. Keep cutting back the toenail as the fungus recedes.
    When you feel the brush against the bare skin the fungus is probably gone. You can also get rid of the unsightly black stuff on top too and make the toenail look good again. Mine was gone in 4 days. Three years ago I tried the usual methods with limited success.

  3. Sonia

    I had a boyfriend once who suffered from fungus toenails. He seemed so upset about it I did some research (pre-Google days) and came across a suggestion to apply gentian violet daily to the toenails + keep the feet as clean and dry as possible at all times. After a year (and our break-up) he wrote me that the remedy had cleared his problem.
    The one difficulty of using this remedy is a major one especially for women: purple toes for a year!
    You can find the stuff at a real old-fashioned pharmacy or online.
    Proviso: as with all remedies and medications, what works for one person might not work for another. But if you start observing the nail growing out looking ‘normal’ it’s a good sign it’s worth continuing.

  4. JT

    Dr Oz featured one solution to foot odor (not fungus) on his TV program – soaking feet brewed regular black tea. My stepfather had trouble with athlete’s feet. My mother, an RN suggested he run around the house barefoot so his feet could dry out. Also, he used a diluted solution of betadine (non-alcohol-based iodine solution) and water once a week to soak. The combination of going barefoot and using diluted betadine pretty much cured his athlete’s feet.

  5. Vic F.

    I had the same symptoms you described and had similar experiences with GP and one ENT. Then had another ENT diagnose the problem as outer ear fungus infection which he said was “swimmer’s ear”. He told me that this was something I would have for the rest of my life but symptoms could be controlled by daily application of a prescription antifungal ointment called nystatin and triamcinolone. Instructions were to apply small amount to Q-tip, insert the Q-tip all the way to my ear drum and rotate. I have followed this regimen and it definitely helps but I still occasionally have flare-ups.
    When that happens I have a prescription medication (prescribed by 1st ENT that I saw) called Ciprodex with is a liquid combination of cipro (antibiotic) and deximethasone (cortisone). Putting a few drops in my ear relieves the symptoms. The ENT that originally prescribed it did so thinking I had a bacterial infection in my ear, hence the Cipro part. However, the Ciprodex literature warns that one side effect of overuse is a fungus infection.
    I am not sure whether I had a bacterial infection that turned into a fungal infection or what. Also, both ENT’s told me to be very careful to not allow water in my ear and use pieces of cotton balls rolled into ear-plugs every time I shower.

  6. Cindy B.

    Sorry for the frivolous comment but…. those dogs are so cute! Looks like they’re hot on the trail of a little “toe jam,” but her feet look far too perfect for that, lol.

  7. DS

    I’d like to see the updates.

  8. ebm

    I’ve had itchy scaly ears most of my life, even with bleeding and lots of internal ear
    infections to go with it. The inner ear ONLY remedy was ONE ENT’s work: shooting warm water into it (rinsing, vacuuming it dry and insert Nystatin antifungal powder. No other Dr. could fix it. I think it’s a systemic yeast problem, you can smell it. Nystatin
    cream might help (probably still a prescription item), low carbs and a anti-yeast diet
    with probiotics helps me. Dairy is another culprit. Good luck

  9. Barbara

    Could a fungus also cause itching, burning pain in the external ear at the ear canal opening? This started in the left year six months ago and is now in both ears.
    I wake in the morning with wet, itchy ears, the pain wakes me. Two ENT doctors have dismissed my concerns saying my ears are dry when they look in them.
    I have tried 1% cortisone cream, Benadryl cream, saline, Vicks, polysporin, mupirocin, aloe vera gel, golden seal herb, 70% alcohol, and am now trying Listerine. I have tried using nothing. I am allergic to tea tree oil and can’t try that. I am avoiding getting hair spray on my ears. I have even taken Claritin to see if it is an allergy. Nothing has helped.
    I even bought new pillows with organic cotton covers. I don’t know what to try next. Could this be a fungus that is invisible to the eye of ENT doctors??? Occasionally their is a thin, flesh colored scab, but not often. Nothing else is visible to the ENT dr. They scoff at my discomfort.

  10. Karen

    >toenail fungus is just a cosmetic issue
    Unless you consider toenail that are too thick to cut with anything but wire cutters purely a “cosmetic” issue? Naw, it can start to affect your gait when your shoes don’t fit right anymore.
    Iodine drops appear to be helping; too soon to call this one. Couldn’t find clear and decided that “stained” wasn’t very much worse than “infected,” and if it worked, my toes would only be stained for a few months.
    Other products are not always labelled sufficiently clearly–treating FOOT fungus is NOT the same as treating TOENAILS.

  11. oldrunner

    tea tree oil, applied full strength for several days and then do it here and there over time is very effective. If the fungus has spread to your foot, and you have cracked and dry feet that is also a fungus. use full strength tea tree oil followed by skin cream, udder balm, burt’s bees or any good skin moisturizer.

  12. betty

    And don’t let them wear plastic shoes. Three times in my six teens’ lives have we had stinky foot order, and it always turned out to be plastic shoes. One time my husband developed stinking feet, and sure enough, plastic shoes.

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