Keep your feet sweet

Sweet-smelling, healthy looking feet are important, especially at this time of year. Here's how to look after them, including special footcare advice for people with diabetes

Summer is the time when looking after our feet is a priority. That’s because they’re exposed more often during the warmer months compared with at other times of the year. But if the though of wearing summer sandals fills you with dread, don’t despair, there are lots of thing you can do to solve the most common foot problems – and everything you need is available at your local pharmacy.

Take smelly feet, for instance. Many people are embarrassed to reveal their feet because they suffer from foot odour. But you can help prevent odour by washing your feet in warm, soapy water at least twice a day. After drying them thoroughly, massage in some foot moisturiser to keep them soft. And if you wear socks, make sure they’re made of 100 percent cotton, which will help your feet ‘breathe’.

If you have hard skin on your feet or cracked heels, use a pumice stone or a foot file to remove the dead skin cells. Then after washing your feet, use a specially formulated cracked heel balm to add moisture.

Keeping your toenails trimmed using nail clippers will also keep your feet looking neat. And if you suffer from one or more thickening toenails, which can make trimming difficult, ask your pharmacist about treatments that can help make them softer and easier to cut.

Foot faults

If, however, you have a specific problem, here’s a quick rundown of how your pharmacist can help:

  • Athlete’s foot: Caused by a fungal infection, athlete’s foot mainly affects the skin between the toes, making it red, flaky and itchy, but it’s easily treated. Ask your pharmacist to recommend a produce such as antifungal creams, sprays, liquids and powders that would be suitable for you.
  • Fungal nail infections: Thick, discoloured, crumbly or brittle toenails could be a sign of a fungal nail infection. Speak to your pharmacist about over-the-counter treatments that may help, such as creams and
nail paints that treat the infection.
  • Verrucas: Also called plantar warts, these are caused by infection of the human papilloma virus (HPV) and are generally found on the soles of the feet. Over-the-counter products that may help include creams, gels and paints (ask your pharmacist to recommend a product that would be suitable for you).
  • Corns and calluses: Corns are circular areas of thickened skin that are usually found on the tops and sides of toes while calluses are hard, rough areas of skin that are usually much bigger than corns. Both are caused by pressure or friction. Ask your pharmacist about product that may provide relief, including hard skin creams, pumice stones and corn plasters (corn plasters are not suitable for people who have diabetes).
  • Bunions: A bunion is a deformity of the joint at the base of the big toe and may be a result of badly-fitting shoes or arthritis. They can run in your family and, as well as looking unattractive, they can cause pain and discomfort. Non-surgical treatments from pharmacies, such as painkillers and bunion pads, can provide relief. However, the only way to remove or correct a bunion is to have surgery.

If you have diabetes and you notice any of these foot problems, see your GP.

Diabetes advice

For people with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, footcare is a year-round priority. That’s because poor blood glucose control can damage the nerves and blood vessels in the feet, resulting in a range of problems such as infections, poor blood supply, cramp, loss of feeling, as well as cuts and sores that don’t heal very well. In extreme cases it can even lead to foot, toe or leg amputation (according to Diabetes UK, 100 lower limb amputations take place in the UK every week as a result of poorly controlled diabetes).

If you have diabetes, it’s really important to go for your annual foot check – speak to your GP or diabetes nurse if you’re not sure when your next foot check is due. It’s also a very good idea to check your feet yourself every day too. Here are some of the things you should look out for:

  • Swelling
  • Areas of thickened hard skin
  • Changes in skin colour
  • Sores, cuts or blisters that are slow to heal
  • Thickened toenails

If you spot any of the above or any other changes in your feet, it could mean that your diabetes isn’t being controlled well enough, so see your GP, diabetes nurse or podiatrist as soon as possible. Also, catching any foot problems early usually means they will be much easier to treat.

Meanwhile, follow general footcare guidance, such as washing your feet every day (dry them really carefully, especially between the toes), using a moisturising cream to keep your feet soft (though don’t apply cream or talc between your toes, as it can increase the risk of infection) and gently treating any areas of hard skin by using a pumice stone (never use anything sharp, such as a blade).

Cut your toenails regularly too, but don’t cut them down the sides or cut them too short, and use a nailbrush or an old toothbrush to clean the edges and sides of your nails if necessary.

For more information on how to care for your feet if you have diabetes, visit www.diabetes.org.uk, where you can also download a guide to maintaining healthy feet written
by The Society of Chiropodists
and Podiatrists.