Toe jam can be a source of fascination, disgust, or barely noticeable. It could be a sign that you need to wash your feet or rethink your choice of footwear. It can also lead to major health problems.
Even jam toe, the goop and debris between your toes, has been turned into a Beatles song.
But it was unlikely that John Lennon was thinking about foot hygiene when he wrote the words for the second stanza of Come Together:
He’s not wearing shoe polish, he’s got a soccer ball
He got monkey finger, shot Coca-Cola
He says: I know you, you know me
One thing I can tell you is that you should be free.
What is toe jam, actually?
Jam toe is not a medical term. There is no official medical term to describe the dead skin cells, sweat, sock tissue, and dirt that coalesce into the small, often narrow spaces between our toes.
Finger jam can have the consistency of soft cheese or cake crumbs. It can smell or be odorless. Its color can range from white to gray and brown.
Toe jam is more likely to form if you wear closed shoes when it’s hot, or if you wear jumpsuits that don’t allow sweat to evaporate.
Poor foot hygiene is sure to increase your likelihood of developing bunion toes. This is because sweaty debris accumulates between the toes if you do not take care to clean these areas in the shower or bath.
Crowded toes may be more likely if your feet perspire a lot for other reasons. For example, we know that sweaty feet can be a problem for children and teens who have overactive sweat glands. Some people have a serious medical condition called hyperhidrosis, in which they sweat excessively.
The pooling of sweat and dead skin between the toes provides an opportunity for bacteria that live on the skin to thrive.
These bacteria, which include those found in the genus BrevibacteriumIt feeds on sweat and releases molecules that give sweaty feet the characteristic “cheese” smell. Brevibacterium is also used to ripen some cheeses.
This warm, moist environment is also an ideal site for tinea pedis, a fungal skin infection that you might know as athlete’s foot.
Signs of ringworm may be white, moist skin between your toes, which can be itchy, and red areas, which are a sign of skin damage. Damaged skin between the toes may develop into small, fluid-filled blisters and may also bleed if the weakened skin ruptures.
So, while toe jam doesn’t look like ringworm, it may provide the perfect conditions for the fungus to grow.
How dangerous is toe jam?
In general, toe jam is a minor health problem. You can manage it with clean feet. And if you have ringworm, you can use a short course of antifungal treatment that you can buy at a pharmacy (see below).
It’s an entirely different possibility, however, for someone who has a chronic disease like diabetes, someone who has low vision (so they can’t see crowded toes or its complications), or who may be unable to reach their feet due to limited movement.
Diabetes that is not well controlled by diet, exercise or medications increases the risk of decreased blood flow (peripheral arterial disease) and decreased feeling in the feet (sensory neuropathy).
The broken skin between the toes due to ringworm can contaminate quickly, increasing the risk of:
- Spread of infection to the foot and leg (cellulitis).
- Bone infection (osteomyelitis)
- gangrene (dead tissue due to lack of blood flow)
- Amputation of a toe or part of the foot or leg.
So early identification of ringworm of a vulnerable person is especially important to prevent complications.
4 ways to avoid problems
Here are four tips for avoiding toe problems, including ringworm and its complications:
- Carefully wash and dry the spaces between your toes after bathing or showering and after swimming. Gyms and pools are a common place to catch a fungal infection on your feet, so it’s a good idea to wear a thong to reduce the risk of ringworm.
- If possible, avoid wearing shoes that don’t allow sweat to evaporate (eg closed, synthetic shoes and wide boots). Also, going barefoot, when there is no risk of injury, will allow sweat to evaporate
- Treat sweaty feet with an antiperspirant containing aluminum chloride. More severe cases of hyperhidrosis can be treated with medications, such as Botox injections into the feet. Fungal infections (tinea) should be treated with over-the-counter antifungal creams such as terbinafine or clotrimazole. Resistant infections may require a course of prescribed antifungal medication
- Pay attention to signs that the infection is spreading from the foot. This could be pain and swelling in the toes, or red streaks along the foot and up the leg. This requires an urgent visit to a podiatrist or a doctor.
Lennon mentions the “gumboot walrus” in verse three of Come Together. The last line of the second verse says “You must be free.” The cover of The Beatles Abbey Road album shows Paul McCartney walking barefoot (second from left).
The Beatles probably knew a thing or two about crowded toe and foot health.
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