Know Your Toes: What Toenails Can Reveal About You (VIDEO)

By Rachel Martin

May 6, 2013 Updated May 7, 2013 at 9:06 AM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (www.incnow.tv) – There are certain parts of the body, like skin, hair and teeth, that can reveal a lot about your health, but ever given much thought to your toes? A local podiatrist says your toes can reveal much more.

In the town of Garfield, N.J., thousands of residents were exposed to a toxic chemical from a factory leak. Now scientists fear residents could have cancer, and the only way to know for sure—examine toenail clippings.

Fort Wayne Podiatrist Dr. Lynn H. Stafford of Aboite Podiatry says toenails can hold up to months, or even years worth of information.

"The average person, it's approximately 12 months. Obviously there's some variation on how much blood flow there is getting to the extremity, age is a factor. So those of us who have good blood flow, maybe closer to the 10 month mark. Those who have slow blood flow maybe closer to the 18 month mark,” said Dr. Stafford.

And that means your tootsies can be tainted and you don't even know it. Luckily, Dr. Stafford says exposure to toxic chemicals is more common on the coasts. Here in the Heartland, there is one thing that can make your little piggies cry, “wee, wee, wee.”

"We have a lot of fungus, partly because of the shoe gear we wear. They are man-made materials so they trap some of the moisture, so we're seeing more and more fungus,” she said.

Stafford says it can take a full six weeks for fungus to develop, and up to a year to clear it up. "Redness, swelling, red streaking, funny odor, drainage. Those are all reasons you need to seek medical attention."

But don't get your toes in a jam! Things like drying in between your toes after bathing and rotating the shoes you wear can “toe-tally” make for happy feet.

"It literally will take two to three days for the shoes to dry up between use, so if you keep putting your feet in the warm, dark, moist environment, that's where fungus likes to grow."

Although pedicures are meant to make your toes twinkle, there's trouble "a-foot." Dr. Stafford says many nail salons can be the perfect breeding ground.

"We see a lot more people getting pedicures where their instrumentation is not being sterilized sufficiently. We're seeing more fungus that way,” she said.

But ladies, you don't have to put your foot in it. "The first appointment of the day tends to be the best appointment of the day because everything's cleaner,” said Dr. Stafford. “If you want, for extra protection to bring your own instrumentation, that is a wonderful idea. And bring your own polish, think about it: you've got somebody who's had toenail fungus, they're using the applicator, they're putting it on and then they're putting it back into the bottle. So you're helping to promote the environment in which allows fungus to grow."

Dr. Stafford recommends that people who have toenail fungus not go to nail salons, but for everyone else, just be choosy on where to go and ask questions about how they clean and sterilize their instruments. Stafford says the best sterilization treatment is steaming because it requires that the entire instrument be submerged.

And the best way to treat toenail fungus? Dr. Stafford says to stay away from the Vick’s Vapor Rub. She says going to see a doctor is the best way, and the earlier the better However, if you have toenail fungus now, Dr. Stafford says don't count on putting your best foot forward for summer.

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