Common, contagious foot infection can be a sign of systemic issues.

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Poor feet.

They carry the load of a lifetime, spending all their days in a supporting role. But your two feet are complex marvels of skeletal engineering that contain more than a quarter of all the bones in your body.

According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, most Americans will log 75,000 miles on their feet by age 50.

Dr. Mikhail Burakovskiy, for one, believes your feet deserve better treatment, and has advice on how you can start.

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He and his associates at Integrative Foot & Ankle Centers of Washington provide comprehensive foot care and surgery to treat sprains and other injuries, chronic pain, neuropathy and diabetic foot pain as well as skin conditions and toenail fungus.

According to Dr. Burakovskiy, about 20 percent of us are walking around with toenail fungus and may not even know it.

“It’s something we treat on a daily basis. It’s a very common problem,” he says.

The human skin is host to an entire little ecosystem of living organisms. One of those is fungus, which can multiply out of control in certain conditions, such as when immune systems have been weakened, and also when feet bleed or sweat profusely.

A healthy toenail, Burakovskiy says, should be pink and transparent with no debris or discoloration. When fungus takes root the nail slowly turns yellow and becomes misshapen, and crumbly at the edge.

“The fungus destroys the nail and the skin around the nail. What can happen is it can cause other infections and people can lose part of a toe or a foot,” he said. “Also, it’s very contagious. If someone in the family has it there’s a very good chance they could give it to kids, grandchildren or significant other.”

Burakovskiy says it’s important to treat the fungus as a symptom of a larger systemic issue.

“We don’t just treat the symptom. We look at the whole situation. We look at diet, systemic diseases, circulation, even drug interactions, because a lot of times these issues are related,” he says.

Podiatrists treat fungal infection with topical products, pharmaceutical therapy with drugs such as Lamisil, and laser treatment – and often a combination of those.

The newest treatment for nail fungus approved by the Food & Drug Administration is a non-thermal (cold) laser that sends laser light through the nail and into the skin where the fungi live.

The cold laser works two ways, killing the fungal cells while actually causing the nail to regenerate into a “good-looking, healthy nail,” Burakovskiy says.

The success rate for the new cold laser treatment is about 90 percent, a big improvement over the less-effective hot lasers, which did not always penetrate deep enough and could potentially burn the skin.

If they could, your feet would thank you for following Burakovskiy’s advice:

  • Change socks often.
  • Wash feet regularly.
  • Try to avoid cuts to the skin, especially around the toenail. (“If it bleeds, that’s protein and that’s like food to fungus.”)
  • Don’t share clippers or grooming implements.
  • Wear sandals in public showers.
  • If receiving a pedicure, make sure it’s a sterile environment
  • Don’t leave polish on toenails for too long. (“Anytime you have a dark, moist environment – which is what happens with nail polish – it promotes fungus and makes you prone to infections.”)

At Integrative Foot & Ankle Centers of Washington, our skilled Seattle podiatrists work to diagnose and treat your needs, whether it is a sprain, toenail fungus, or plantar fasciitis. We have extensive experience in many different types of treatments.