Toenail fungus, or onychomycosis, is a fungal infection underneath your nail. Debris can connect beneath the nail plate, called subungual debris. A fungal infection is capable of spreading to other toenails, skin, or even your fingernails. An ignored fungal infection can spread and impair your ability to perform daily life activities, like walking. This infection can also be accompanied by a bacterial or yeast infection at the nail plate or around it.
What causes toenail fungus?
It is difficult to avoid microscopic organisms like fungi, but it helps to know what causes it. The toenails are especially vulnerable around:
- Damp areas: Walking barefoot in humid areas such as showers, swimming pools, and locker rooms.
- Injuries: An injury to your nail or pressure from shoes can make the nail more susceptible to infection, including fungi.
- Chronic diseases: Those who have diseases like diabetes, circulatory problems, or immune-deficiency conditions are more prone to fungal nails.
- Athlete’s foot: Other factors can be that you’ve had a history of athlete’s foot and excessive sweating.
What are the symptoms of toenail fungus?
Toenail fungus can be present for years without causing pain, so it is important to take note of any changes in your toenail’s quality and/or color. It is common that this fungus is ignored because there is often no pain associated with it. If you notice one of theses symptoms, a good idea would be to get an appointment with a podiatrist:
- Thickened: A result of fungal infections are thickened nails that are difficult to trim
- White or yellow discoloration: White marks can appear on the nail plate as well.
- Brittle, crumbly or ragged
- Distorted in shape
- Become darker in color: Caused by debris building up under your nail
- Smelling slightly foul: Tiny organisms can take hold of the nail, causing it to smell foul.
- Pain: Can cause pain at the nail when walking in shoes.
Home remedies for toenail fungus
Having a routine of cleansing your feet over a period of months can suppress mild infections. The white markings on the nail can be filed off, and you can try applying an over the counter liquid antifungal. Although even the best over the counter medications may not prevent the fungus from coming back.
When should you see a podiatrist?
Anytime you notice discoloration, thickening, or deformity of your toenails, you should visit a podiatrist. The earlier you seek treatment, the greater chance you have of getting the nails to become clear of fungus and debris.
Toenail fungus treatments
Treatment options vary with the severity of toenail fungus. A podiatrist can determine the cause of a fungal infection by performing a lab test which helps him/her determine a suitable treatment plan. Treatment plans consist of things like topical or oral medication or debridement, removal of diseased/unhealthy nail matter and debris.
- Oral antifungals: This may be the most effective in treating fungal infections. They offer a shorter treatment time, usually 3 months.
- Topical antifungal: Your podiatrist may also prescribe a topical antifungal, which can also be effective in treating fungal nails.
- Remove the nail: In some instances, it may be beneficial to remove the infected nail, to allow direct treatment of topical antifungals.
- Permanent removal: This is done with nails that become painful and don’t respond to treatment. It cures the fungal infection, and prevents the return of a deformed nail.
Trying to treat a fungal infection at home without the aid of a podiatrist, can lead to more issues. Often, the treatment of this is successful since this is a common issue for many people.
How can I prevent a fungal infection?
The main way to prevent a fungal infection is to practice hygiene and regular inspection of the feet and toes. Clean, dry feet often do resist any fungal growth.
- Wash your feet: With soap and water, and make sure to dry them completely.
- Do not walk barefoot: Another preventative measure is wearing shower shoes in public bathing areas.
- Change your socks: As well as your shoes, or hosiery more than once daily.
- Straight clipping of toenails: The clipping of toenails should be straight across so that a nail does not extend beyond your toe’s tip.
- Wear shoes & socks that fit: Wearing shoes that are made of breathable materials is very important as well, as excessively tight clothing or shoe gear can increase moisture.
- Disinfect used tools: Any instruments you use to perform proper hygiene of your feet should be disinfected after every use.
If you suspect you may have athlete’s foot, a fungal infection commonly seen as white, circular lesions appearing on your feet, you should seek treatment for this as well, as fungus can spread to your nails. You’ll want to avoid applying polish to any nails you suspect may have fungus or are discolored.