Fungus Among Us? Don’t Forget Your Flip Flops3 min read
Flurries floated to the ground as my taxi pulled up to the hostel in the Old Town of Stockholm. The facade of the hostel was immaculate and welcoming, unlike other parts of Europe where you truly get what you pay for.
I was stopping over in Sweden to visit my sister who was studying at the University of Stockholm. After a brief stay with her, my itinerary would take me through Finland and the Netherlands all the way down to the boot of Italy where I would catch a plane back to the states. I was pleased that I was able to fit all I needed (or so I thought) in my masterly arranged backpack, a skill inherited from my father.
My room in the hostel was just as expected, simple and efficient, something any Volvo owner would be proud of, with a shared bathroom down the hall. After my red-eye flight I was looking forward to a shower then meeting my sister for lunch. The first thing I looked for was my pair of flip-flops, and my heart dropped. In my mind I could see them sitting on my bedroom floor, across five thousand miles of Atlantic chop. Any (hygienic) college freshman values the flip flop. In the dorms, where 60-70 students share the same 10 showers, the flip flop offers protection from fungi, mycosis, athlete’s foot and any other sort of creepy-crawly hitchhikers that live in bathroom tile city. But I was in Sweden, one of the cleanest countries in Europe. The hostel was tidy and the bathroom looked better than the ones in my college dorm, so it must be okay to go sans flop, right? Wrong. I ended up paying the price in the form of a tag-along all the way to Rome, and he was no “fun-guy.”
Toenail fungus, known by physicians as onychomycosis, will affect 50% of Americans by the age of 70. Fungus infections occur when microscopic fungi gain entry through a small break or abrasion in the nail, then grow and spread in the warm, moist environment inside your socks and shoes. Symptoms of toenail fungus include swelling, yellowing, crumbling of the nail, streaks or spots down the side of the nail, and even complete loss of the nail. It is very difficult to cure so prevention is ideal. It helps to wear protective shoes or sandals in public showers, pool areas and gyms, and to avoid borrowing shoes or sharing socks or towels. Keep your feet dry as much as possible and change socks on a daily basis.
If you do develop a fungus, see a doctor. You will want to be very clear about your symptoms, especially if you are in a foreign country. The common terms that we use in America don’t always translate well in other languages. For example, “athlete’s foot” in Italian is “il piede d’atleta”, but that won’t mean anything to a doctor; the medically correct translation is “infezione micotica.” Once your condition is diagnosed, expect some common treatments such as trimming or filing affected areas and in severe cases, oral anti-fungal medication.
In conclusion, don’t let foot fungi uproot your travel plans. As inconvenient and unsightly as it is, fungi are easy to prevent — just think cleanliness. Also, don’t forget your flip flops, anytime you pack for a trip!