Nail Fungus

Information on the causes and symptoms of nail fungus.

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  1. What is Nail Fungus?
  2. Diagnosing Nail Fungus
  3. What Causes Nail Fungus?
  4. More Information on Nail Fungus

What is Nail Fungus?

Nail fungus is also known as Onychomycosis or Tinea unguium. It is a fairly common infection that can occur in the fingernails and/or the toenails. Nail fungus starts when tiny organisms called dermatophytes grow underneath the skin. The nail provides a safe, dark and damp place for the fungus to breed and also protects it while it grows. Because of its position under the nail it is often very hard to reach or stop it from growing. Usually, fungi cause the area around the base and the sides of the nail to become red and irritated. Initially, the edges or base of the nail are affected.

As it spreads, the nail and nail bed begin to show changes. Mild discomfort, itchiness, or even pain bleeding or detachment of the cuticles may occur. Fungal nail infections can be contagious and the organisms can spread from one person to another. These organisms survive where the air is moist and can then attack bare hands and feet.

This fungal infection is more common in the toenails because socks and shoes keep the toenails dark, warm and moist.
Nail fungal infections are most likely be contracted in bathrooms, shower stalls or locker rooms. Wearing nail polish and plastic or acrylic nails can trap moisture and fungi causing an infection to occur.

It may also be spread through sharing nail files, emery boards or clippers as well as from one of your nails to adjacent nails. Fungal infections of the nail are also more likely to affect people with a weakened immune system or systemic Candida overgrowth.

Diagnosing Nail Fungus

Fungal infections can cause nail discoloration with nails changing to a yellowish, brownish color. Little white patches may also appear on the nails. A change in nail texture and growth can also occur where nails crumble, break easily and grow unevenly. Debris may also accumulate underneath the nails. Infected nails may also have a foul odor and toenails may become so thick that wearing shoes causes pain.

It is not always easy to get rid of a fungus. Anti-fungal and topical creams that are available over-the-counter are usually ineffective as they do not penetrate the nail bed to kill the fungus. Oral treatments such as anti-fungal medications may be prescribed by your health practitioner to fight off infection. These medications are quite strong and have to be taken regularly for months to be effective. It should also be noted that these medications have adverse side effects that can harm other organs such as the liver, skin or bone marrow. Most fungal nail infections have a tendency to recur.

What Causes Nail Fungus?

The most common causes of nail fungus include:

  • Trauma- if a bruise or lesion causes the nail to lift and separate from the nail bed it then becomes vulnerable to the development of nail fungus.
  • Environment- when there is overexposure of nails to humid and wet environments the risk of developing nail fungus increases
  • Poor blood circulation- If blood flow to the area is insufficient nail health is compromised increasing the likelihood of nail fungus.
  • Weak immune system- When immune function is not optimal the nail becomes vulnerable to the development of nail fungus
  • Poor hygiene- Manicure and pedicure tools that have not been sterilized properly can spread nail fungus to otherwise healthy nails.

More Information on Nail Fungus

Tips to Prevent Nail Infections

There are several useful ways to prevent nail fungal infections and they include:

  • Eat a high protein diet to maintain healthy, strong nails
  • Cut and trim your nails straight across, and remember not to cut them too short
  • If your nails are too hard to cut soak them in warm salt water before cutting
  • Dry feet properly and keep them well ventilated
  • Avoid wearing nonporous, closed shoes
  • Wear waterproof sandals in public showers
  • Wear absorbent socks
  • Avoid applying artificial nails over your own because they destroy the underlying nail
  • Use nail polish remover and nail hardeners carefully as they can dry nails and cuticle