Nail fungus infections are caused when fungi infects the nail plate and the soft tissue beneath the nail.
Often called onychomycosis (on-i-ko-my-ko-sis), it is caused primarily by organisms called dermatophytes and is extraordinarily common. Yeasts and moulds also can be responsible.
Fungal nail infection has little to do with personal cleanliness. Something as simple as banging a toe or finger, trimming your nails too closely or wearing tight shoes is enough to weaken the nail and expose the underlying nail bed to infection.
Toenails are most vulnerable to infection, since they spend much of their day surrounded by dark, warm and often moist shoes and socks.
An infection may begin as a white or yellow spot under the tip of your toenail. As the nail fungus spreads, it may cause your nail to discolour, thicken and develop crumbling edges. You may feel pain in your toes and detect a slightly foul odour.
Thick toenails, in particular, may cause discomfort in shoes and may even make standing and walking uncomfortable for some people.
The infection can spread to other nails, and possibly to other people. That’s why it is important to seek treatment as soon as you think you have an infection. Your Podiatrist can diagnose and identify the fungus.
Aging is a common risk factor for nail fungus for several reasons, including:
- Diminished blood circulation
- More years of exposure to fungi
- Nails may grow more slowly and thicken with age, making them more susceptible to infection.
Other factors that can increase your risk of developing nail fungus include:
- Perspiring heavily
- Working in a humid or moist environment
- Wearing socks and shoes that hinder ventilation and don’t absorb perspiration
- Walking barefoot in damp public places, such as swimming pools, gyms and shower rooms
- Having athlete’s foot (tinea pedis)
- Having a minor skin or nail injury, a damaged nail, or another infection
- Having diabetes, circulation problems or a weakened immune system.
Prevention is better than cure!
- Keep your feet as clean and dry as possible. Regularly use an anti-fungal talcum foot powder
- Use shower shoes when walking in public swimming and shower areas
- Clip your toenails straight across so that your nail does not extend beyond the tip of your toe
- Wear comfortable shoes that fit properly.
When to see Foot Matters Podiatry
Fungal nail infection will not go away by itself. A Podiatrist will be able to advise on a correct treatment and management regime. This may include:
- Anti-fungal creams which can be very effective in the early stage when the fungus first starts to affect the toenails
- Oral medications that will help a new nail grow free of infection, slowly replacing the infected portion of your nail. During the period when the nail is re-growing, using an anti-fungal cream is advised to prevent further infection
- Your Podiatrist can thin down thickened toenails and make them easier to treat yourself at home with nail paints. Treatment can take a long time and takes perseverance
- A laser or photodynamic therapy – intense light, irradiates the nail after it’s been treated with an acid
- If your nail infection is severe or extremely painful, you may be advised to have the nail removed. A new nail will usually grow in its place, though it may take as long as a year to grow back completely.
Podiatrists have an important role to play in preventing and managing foot problems. Prompt action is important. Problems which are left without assessment or treatment may result in major health risks.