‘The Irritating Little Toe’

That irritating little toe looks like Athlete’s foot but it isn’t. Treat yourself without fuss. Read more. 

In this self-help article, the irritating little toe problem is discussed. Usually the problem will settle within a week of self prescribed care. I have chosen this subject as the condition is slightly different from the usual fungal infection affecting the toe. Before panicking and thinking you are unclean read this article from ConsultingFootPain.

The patient looked down at his toe and saw flaky skin  – white and raw. It itched madly, had an odour and so it was assumed that dastardly condition toe fungus. The condition has various names, including Dhobi’s itch. The latter term relates more to the irritation found in the groin and areas where sweat builds up. Athlete’s feet is more commonly attributed to this condition and has a fungus rather than bacterial origin.

While athlete’s foot (dermatomycosis) is associated with warm climates it can affect us in winter as well as summer all because we fail to dry in an area susceptible to the problem (see diagrams below). This annoying condition  affects the small toe, or to be more precise, affects the inside cleft of the fifth toe. Full blown fungal infections can have a ring like feature (ring worm) and affect skin across the foot and other parts of the body. Blisters that emerge as small vesicles which predominate the sole and arch in particular. Nails are also affected by fungus but may take much longer to arrive and treatment is often more prolonged. Refer to the resources below for more information.

But, what about an isolated toe …

Area of weakness [fifth toe] caused by deep basin and collection of moisture (arrow) from failing to dry adequately. This leads to maceration of the skin. Author (C) 2020

The little toe or fifth toe has a cup shape indent toward the base as it connects with the foot. The cup acts to trap water if the area is not dried. The skin becomes soggy (macerated – see picture) and sets up an irritation within a short period. If the skin surface (epidermis) sheds back or flakes the lower layer is exposed and cannot combat fungus or bacteria well. The change in odour is noticeable and confined to the scooped out shape. Often by the time the person notices the problem has hatched.


What to do about the itchy damage?

Open the toes to locate the source of the irritation. This arises as an itch and stinging sensation. You will find this as an isolated feature affecting one or both feet. Wash the foot and dry this vigorously with a small towel only used by yourself. The typical appearance is shown below and often assumed fungal in origin. The skin will flake away leaving a moderate tender area so you may not be able to be as vigorous as you might wish. Dry gently with a dryer set on a temperature that does not burn.

haniff66/Shutterstock

 

While an alcohol based preparation in the form of surgical spirit was traditional and would help dry the toe you can try using the anti-perspirant used under your arms. This way you should know if you are sensitive, but the spray will act in the same way as the alcohol agent and have a pleasant odour. A slight discomfort is noted while the base skin is still raw. You can conveniently use this several times a day (2-3)

Picture form Amazon website. Ingredients shown as Tolnaftate

Light rather than heavy dusting of talc 

The use of a talcum type powder treated with an anti-fungal agent is important rather than an ordinary cosmetic talc. This dries the base. I have used a picture above from a well known company but other preparations are available and the type depicted is not a recommendation for a specific brand.

Don’t forget footwear and socks

Ensure socks or tights are used only if necessary for the first two days to allow better air circulation. Clearly in winter this is impractical outside the house. Use footwear such as sandals, flip-flops to improve air to the feet. Clean the toe off at night and re-treat in the morning. Don’t pile blankets on (winter) to superheat your feet. Each time you treat the skin, wash, dry and rub as vigorously as you can. Once the loose skin is removed by rubbing, the skin will heal and form a new layer. By the end of the first week (5 days) the toe should be more comfortable and start to resolve. Complete resolution may take 10 days.


The cause of the irritating little toe

The shape of the toe at its base does not allow automatic drying. The deeper the cup, (coloured pink in the diagram) the higher the risk from this affliction. Scrupulous regular drying prevents this while failure to act can lead to maceration quickly. The condition is often populated with bacteria rather than fungal infection, but if left, fungal (mycotic) infection can follow causing the toe to split and the skin to develop a red rash. Bacteria are most frequently the reason for the unpleasant smell as they give off chemicals that create the offensive odour. The NHS link below is excellent ** for more advice and goes into other types of concerns. 

The method above has been tested by this author and is safe bar the discomfort that arises for a short time when spraying onto the raw surface. Both the alcohol propellant and dusting powder dry the skin after the flakes are removed by rubbing. If the condition does not settle and persists beyond 7 days without showing signs of improvement than seek professional podiatric or medical help. Check the resource centres below.


CAUTION:

Diabetics, those who cannot reach their feet, and people at risk from immunosuppressive treatment should seek advice earlier before self-treating this condition


Other resource centres

** NHS advice: Link
Footeducation: Link
College of Podiatry: Link
Institute of Chiropodists & Podiatrists: Link

** recommended source

Please note these links can change as information is updated and outside our control 


Thanks for reading ‘The Irritating Little Toe’ written by David Tollafield and published as part of ConsultingFootPain

Published under Busypencilcase Reflective Communications  (Est. 2015)