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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Dr. Pegs Prescription

Wintertime cracked feet could be more than just dry skin

Winter in New Mexico brings a double-dry-whammy. The air in our high desert is dry to begin with, and between the cold temperatures outdoors and the heated air indoors, our poor skin suffers this time of year. You know what I mean. The scaly hands, the cracked fingers, the rough soles. It is this last one I want to talk about, and what I have to say may surprise you.

Do your feet feel coarse and dry no matter how much you loofah or lather on the lotion? Do you see little white or yellow cracks on the bottoms of your feet? When you take off your socks, do the threads catch on your naturally spiked heels?

If you answered yes to any of these, you probably have more than just simple dry skin. You probably have a fungus.

But wait, you say, my feet don’t stink! Fungus stinks, right? And anyway, how could I have fungus in this dry climate? Fungus likes moisture.

Your misconceptions are common. In fact, the dry bottoms of our feet are a perfect home for certain species of fungus. We see this all the time in the clinic, although it is usually just one of those incidental findings.

People don’t generally come in to see the doctor for cracked and crusty soles. When I point it out, they tell me they figure they just have dry skin. Little do they know they have an infestation.

The good news about having a fungus infection is that it can be cured. Yes, you too can have feet like a baby again. Here’s how.

After your shower, when your feet are softest, go after that rough dry skin with a pumice stone, a grater, or even an old razor (careful!) Scrape off as much dead skin as you can, then coat your feet with an antifungal cream. Do this twice a day for two weeks and you should see a change. If you don’t have time to do the whole pumice thing, just using the medicated cream will probably be enough.

There are lots of different antifungal creams over the counter in the skin care section. Clotrimazole, tolnaftate and terbinafine are three common generics. I think creams work better than powders or sprays, but any one is likely to work.

Once you get your nice, soft feet back, you can stop the antifungal cream. But keep a close eye on things and if your feet start to dry and crack again, do it again. If one cream doesn’t work, try another. Before you know it, baby feet! Just in time for spring and flip flops.

Dr. Peggy Spencer is a physician at Student Health and Counseling. She is also co-author of the book “50 Ways to Leave Your 40s.” Email your questions directly to her at pspencer@unm.edu. All questions will be considered, and all questioners will remain anonymous.