Fungal nail infections are very common – many people will experience this unpleasant condition during their lifetimes. While the condition can be unpleasant, it is not usually serious and can be managed and even cured through treatment.
Learn more about nail fungus, what causes the condition and find out what you can do if you’re affected by a fungal nail infection.
What is toenail fungus?
Nail fungus is an infection that can come on slowly and affect both toes and fingers. Toenails are more commonly affected than fingernails, becoming thick, brittle and yellow in color as the infection spreads. As many as ten per cent of adults in western nations suffer from nail fungus, and the condition affects around 20 per cent of the older population, aged 60 and over.
Known as onychomycosis, a fungal nail infection is caused by a type of fungus called a dermatophyte – the same microbe responsible for athlete’s foot and jock itch. The fungus thrives in warm, moist conditions and can spread to the keratin of the nails, where it causes thickness and discoloration.
What are the causes of toenail fungus?
Toenail fungus is the result of often harmless fungi multiplying and causing an infection. Most commonly, a fungal nail infection is associated with athlete’s foot – the microbes responsible for the condition spread from one area of the foot to the toenails.
A fungal nail infection occurs most often in people who do not keep their feet clean and dry, wear shoes that cause feet to become hot and sweaty or walk around barefoot in places where infections can be easily spread, like locker rooms and showers.
Some people are more likely than others to be affected by toenail fungus – a weakened immune system and certain conditions like diabetes and psoriasis can also increase someone’s chances of contracting a fungal nail infection.
What are the symptoms of a fungal toenail infection?
A fungal toenail infection can progress over time, so at first there may be no symptoms. As the infection develops, signs will often start to show – these can include discoloration of the nail, which may become black, white, yellow or green.
An infected toenail will often become thick and misshapen, growing at an angle and becoming harder to cut. Nails can become crumbly and pieces may break off easily. There may be some pain or discomfort, especially when applying pressure to the affected toe. In some cases, the toenail may fall off altogether and the skin near to the toe may also be dry, cracked and itchy.
A visit to the doctor is the only way to confirm a fungal nail infection. A medical practitioner will usually be able to diagnose the condition on sight but may also take a scraping to be tested at the lab.
How can toenail fungus be treated?
A fungal nail infection can be treated in a number of ways. A doctor may prescribe oral antifungal medication, such as terbinafine (Lamisil), itraconazole (Sporanox), fluconazole (Diflucan) or griseofulvin (Gris-Peg).
Topical treatments are also common; products vary in terms of ingredients, with some containing medications and others comprising naturally antimicrobial ingredients. Treatments are usually available in the form of a lacquer that can be brushed on to the nail’s surface in a similar way to applying nail polish – these are typically used for several months at a time.
Nail softening kits can also be used, which makes infected sections of the nail soft enough to be scraped away with a special device. In some cases, where the infection is severe, a procedure may be necessary to remove the nail completely. Laser treatment can also be used to destroy the infection.
Where can I get fungal toenail treatment?
The doctor is usually the first port of call for fungal nail medication, with oral antibiotics often prescribed as treatment. Topical nail solutions are available over the counter in drug stores and also online – this sort of solution can be convenient for busy individuals who struggle to get a doctor’s appointment.
Fungal nail infections may return and can be spread easily, so it’s important to keep feet covered in communal areas where the infection may be spread. Infections often recur and require management as soon as signs present to avoid development of the infection.
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