Fungal toenail infections are more common than you may think. It is estimated that around 10% of the population have a toenail fungus at some point in their life. However, many people don’t realize they have a problem and, therefore, don’t seek treatment. In this article, we will explore nail fungus, including its causes, symptoms, and treatment options.
Nail fungus, also known as onychomycosis, is an infection that develops underneath the surface of the nail. Fungal nail infections are often accompanied by a secondary bacterial and/or yeast infection in or about the nail plate, which ultimately can lead to difficulty and pain when walking or running. Symptoms may include discoloration, brittleness, loosening, thickening, or crumbling of the nail. The disease, characterized by a change in a toenail’s color, is often considered nothing more than a mere blemish. Left untreated, however, it can present serious problems.
A group of fungi, called dermophytes, easily attack the nail and thrive on keratin, the nail’s protein substance. In some cases, when these tiny organisms take hold, the nail may become thicker, yellowish-brown, or darker in color, and foul smelling. Debris may collect beneath the nail plate, white marks may frequently appear on the nail plate, and the infection is capable of spreading to other toenails, the skin, or even the fingernails.
Nail bed injury may make the nail more susceptible to all types of infection, including fungal infection. Those who suffer chronic diseases, such as diabetes, circulatory problems, or immune-deficiency conditions, are especially prone to fungal nails. Other contributory factors may be a history of Athlete’s Foot or excessive perspiration.
If you are concerned that you may have a fungal nail infection, it is important to see a podiatrist, such as Dr Gilbert Huang DPM. Depending on the severity and the type of infection you have, over-the-counter liquid antifungal agents may not prevent a fungal infection from recurring. A topical or oral medication may need to be prescribed, and the diseased nail matter and debris removed, a process called debridement. Note: Please consult your physician before taking any medications.
There are also several preventative measures you can take to avoid developing fungal nail infections. Exercise proper hygiene and regularly inspect your feet and toes. Keep your feet clean and dry. Wear shower shoes in public facilities whenever possible. Clip nails straight across so that the nail does not extend beyond the tip of the toe. Use a quality foot powder (talcum, not cornstarch) in conjunction with shoes that fit well and are made of materials that breathe. Avoid wearing excessively tight hosiery, which promotes moisture. Socks made of synthetic fiber tend to “wick” away moisture faster than cotton or wool socks, especially for those with more active lifestyles. Disinfect home pedicure tools and don’t apply polish to nails suspected of infection.
In severe cases, surgical treatment may be required to remove the infected nail. Permanent removal of a chronically painful nail, which has not responded to any other treatment, permits the fungal infection to be cured and prevents the return of a deformed nail.
In summary, toenail fungus is a common foot health problem that can persist for years without ever causing pain. Symptoms may include discoloration, brittleness, loosening, thickening, or crumbling of the nail. Fungal toenail infections can be prevented by taking simple precautions, such as keeping feet dry, wearing shower shoes in public facilities, and disinfecting pedicure tools. If you are concerned that you may have a fungal nail infection, it is important to see a podiatrist, such as Dr Gilbert Huang DPM, who can provide appropriate treatment options.