As common as they are, many people don’t realize they have a fungal nail problem as they can persist for years without ever causing pain. This issue is often overlooked and ignored, and many don’t seek treatment. Left untreated, nail fungus can present serious future problems.
Also referred to as onychomycosis, fungal nails are infections underneath the surface of the nail, which may also penetrate the nail. Fungal nail infections are often accompanied by a secondary bacterial and/or yeast infection in or around 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.
A group of fungi called dermophytes freely attack the nail and thrive on keratin, the nail’s protein material. In some cases, when these tiny organisms take hold, the nail may become thicker, yellowish-brown, or darker in color, even 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.
A 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.
You can prevent fungal nail infections by taking these simple precautions:
- Exercise proper hygiene and regularly inspect your feet and toes.
- Keep your feet clean and dry.
- Wear shower shoes in public facilities.
- Clip nails straight across, making sure that the nail does not extend beyond the tip of the toe.
- Use a quality foot powder (talcum, not cornstarch) concurrent with shoes that fit well and are made of breathable materials.
- 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.
Depending on the type of infection you have, an over-the-counter liquid antifungal approach may not prevent the infection from returning. You may be given a topical or oral medication, or possibly undergo debridemen, a process in which the diseased nail matter and debris removed. Note: Please consult your physician before taking any medications.
In severe cases, surgical treatment may be required to remove the infected nail. Should a chronically painful nail remain unresponsive to other treatments, it may result in permanent removal. This should grant the fungal infection to be cured and prevent the return of a deformed nail.