Nail fungus, also known as Onchomycosis, is a fungal, yeast or mold infection that starts as a yellow or white spot below the tip of the toe or fingernail. As the infection spreads deeper, nail discoloration, thickening and crumbling at the edges may occur. Nail fungus can affect several nails, but not usually all nails. If the infection is mild, and does not bother you, you need not take treatment. In case the infection causes pain and thickening of the nails, you should take care, and go for medications. But recurring fungal infections may occur on your nail. This article discusses every detail about nail fungus. You will find answers to your questions like what are the symptoms of nail fungus, what causes nail fungus, how to cure toenail fungus, etc are answered in this article.
Symptoms Of Toenail Fungus
One or more of the following symptoms exhibit toenail fungus or onchomycosis.
- Thickened nails.
- Brittle, ragged or crumbled nails.
- Distorted nails.
- Dull nails with no shine.
- Dark colored nails due to build up of debris under the nails.
- Separation of infected nails from their nail beds which may cause pain and a slight foul odor of your nails.
Causes Of Nail Fungus
A dermatophyte fungus causes nail fungal infections. Molds and yeasts also can be causative agents of nail fungus.
What Is Fungus?
Fungus is a microscopic organism, which thrive without sunlight. Some of them are quite useful whereas others cause infection and illness. These organisms reside in warm and damp conditions; invade skin through minute cuts; and cause infections. Nail fungus occur more commonly in the toes than in the fingers because of two reasons:
- Toenails are confined inside the shoes where dark, moist and warm conditions exist, which are favorable for fungal growth.
- Toes have lower blood circulation than that of fingers. This makes it hard for the immune system of the body to detect infection and stop it from spreading further.
Risk Factors Leading To Toenail Fungus
The following are the factors that increase your risk of developing nail fungal infection.
- Old age: Old age enhances your risk of nail fungal infections due to slower nail growth, reduced blood flow, and increased exposure to fungi.
- Heavy perspiration.
- Males with nail fungal infection history in the family.
- Work place environment that is humid or moist, or that wets your nails often.
- Wearing shoes and socks which prevent ventilation and the absorption of perspiration.
- Waking barefooted in damp regions such as shower rooms, gyms, swimming pools, etc.
- Having a foot infection called Athlete’s foot.
- Having circulation problems, diabetes, a poor immune system, etc. In children, having Down’s syndrome can lead to toenail fungal infection.
If you have severely infected nails, it can be quite a painful experience. Besides, it may also lead to the permanent damage of your nails. It may further lead to serious infections that may spread beyond your feet in case you have a weakened immune system as a result of diabetes, medication or other conditions.
Diabetic patients have lower blood circulation and nerve supply in their feet. Furthermore, they are more susceptible to bacterial infections of the skin. So, in case of small injuries in the feet including nail fungal infections, can cause more serious complications. So, if you are diabetic patient who has developed nail fungus infection, it is time that you see a doctor.
Getting Prepared For The Doctor’s Appointment
Fix your appointment with a general physician- may be your family doctor. In certain cases, he may refer you to a dermatologist (a physician who specializes in skin related conditions) or to a podiatrist (a doctor who specializes in foot related conditions). In order to make the appointment work out well for you, it is good to get yourself prepared for it. Here is what you can do:
- Make a list of the symptoms that you are experiencing, even if they seem quite unrelated to the fungal infection on your toe.
- Make a list of your major personal information like recent changes implemented in your life or other major stresses you are experiencing.
- Make a list of all the medications and supplements that you are currently taking.
- Make a list of all the questions that you would like to ask your doctor.
Your Question List Should Bear The Following Queries:
- What can be the major causes of my nail fungal infection?
- Are there other possible causes for my nail fungal infection?
- What are the tests that I need to take?
- How to cure toenail fungus? What are the steps that I should take?
- Are there any alternatives to the basic course of action that you are suggesting?
- How can I best manage my other health conditions along with my toenail infection?
- Is there a common alternative available for the drug that you are prescribing?
- Are there any brochures or some other printed material available with you that I can take home? Are there any websites that you recommend on nail fungus?
If you have any other questions too, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor.
Tests And Diagnosis
First, your physician will most likely examine your toenails. He or she may take a sample of your infection by scraping some debris from under your toe nail. He will send this sample to a lab in order to get fungal causative agent identified. There are certain other conditions like the psoriasis, which can mimic a nail fungal infection. As mentioned earlier, other microorganisms such as bacteria and yeast also can infect nails. Getting to know the cause of your infection can help in determining the best treatment program for your condition.
Treatments And Medications
In case the self-care steps that you have implemented and the non- prescription medications that you have taken have not helped you in healing your nail infection, your physician may recommend a combination of prescription medications and other approaches. Even if this provides relief, repetitive infection is not uncommon. Here are some of the drugs that your physician may prescribe to you.
- Oral anti fungal medicines: Your physician may recommend an oral anti fungal medication to treat toenail fungus. Research has revealed that the most effective treatment drugs against toenail fungal infection are Sporanox (itraconazole) and Lamisil (terbinafine). These medicines help in the growth of an infection- free new nail that gradually replaces the infected one. These drugs are prescribed to be taken for a period of 6 to 12 weeks, but the result of this treatment will not be seen until a new nail grows and completely replaces the old infected nail. It may take 4 months or even longer for this. Elderly people who are above 65 years of age find a lower success rate with this treatment. For such patients, the treatment success can be improved with a combination of oral and topical medications. The side effects caused by oral anti fungal medications may range from skin rashes to damage of liver. So, physicians will not prescribe these drugs to patients with liver ailments or congestive heart failure. Occasional blood tests may be required to check the progress of your condition with these treatments.
- Medicated nail polish: Penlac (ciclopirox) is an anti fungal nail polish. Your physician may prescribe this drug for you. It should be painted on your affected nails and the skin surrounding those once every day. Once in seven days, you have to wipe off the plied up layers of the paint with alcohol, and apply a fresh layer of it. This can be applied for a year’s duration on your nails.
- Medicated nail cream: You may be prescribed an anti-fungal cream, which can be rubbed into the infected nails. First, thin your infected nails, and soak them in water in order to soften them for better penetration of the medicine to reach the underlying fungus. Then apply the medication to the nails. In order to thin your infected nails, apply a non-prescription lotion containing urea to those. Your physician may thin your infected nails by rubbing the surface of your nails with a nail filer or another tool.
How To Cure Toenail Fungus Using Surgical Methods And Other Procedures?
- Nail removal: In cases of severe nail infection, or nail infections causing extreme pain, your physician may advice you to go for a nail removal. A new nail will grow and replace the old infected nail. But the emergence of a new nail and the growth of it completely cover your nail bed may take almost a year’s time. Sometimes after surgically removing the nail, the nail bed is treated with ciclopirox.
- Laser and light-based therapies: Researches in this area are quiet inadequate, but these methods are applied either alone or in combination with other medicines in order to improve the condition of your nails. A study that tested the success of carbon dioxide laser therapy in treating nail fungal infections, found that the majority of patients in this study benefited from it. However, the availability of laser and light-based therapies is rare, expensive, and do not come under insurance coverage.
Lifestyle And Home Remedies For Toenail Fungal Infection
Self-care strategies for nail fungal infection are available. You can implement them by yourself at your home. Here are some of those.
- Try the non- prescription anti fungal ointments and creams: Numerous over- the- counter ointments and creams are available these days. If you find white colored markings on your nails’ surfaces, cut your nails cleanly, soak them in water, dry them, and apply the anti fungal cream or lotion on them. In case you have both nail fungus and athlete’s foot, treat the latter with medicated sprays or powders, and keep your feet dry and clean always.
- Apply Vicks VapoRub: Many people have experienced cure from nail fungus with the application of Vicks VapoRub. So try applying a small quantity of Vicks VapoRub on your infected toenails using a swab of cotton.
- Trim and thin your infected nails: Trimming and thinning of the infected nails help in reducing pain by lowering the pressure on your nails. Doing this prior to applying an anti fungal cream or lotion can ensure the deeper penetration of the medication. You can thin your infected nails by applying urea cream on those, and covering those with bandages. This should be left to stay overnight, and washed off with water and soap in the morning. Before applying a urea cream, protect the surrounding skin of your nails with the application of petroleum jelly.
Home Remedies For Toenail Fungus
People have also found success with the use of some home remedies. Two of the most successful home remedies are listed below.
- Snakeroot extract: Snakeroot extract has been found to be as much as effective as ciclopirox. You should apply this on your infected nails once in every three days during the first month, twice in a week during the second month, and once in a month during the third month.
- Tea tree oil: Although not much research has been carried out in this line, it has been said that people find effective relief from toenail fungus upon applying tea tree oil twice a day.
Prevention Of The Incidence Of Toenail Infection
- Regularly wash your hands and feet using water and soap or a hand wash liquid, and dry completely, including the area in-between your toes. Trim and file your thickened nails at regular intervals.
- If you have to wear socks, go for a sweat- absorbent material. Change your socks daily, especially if your feet tend to sweat a lot.
- Go for shoes that lower the humidity inside them. You can also occasionally take your shoes off so as to expose your feet to air. If possible, wear footwear that have open toe.
- Throw away your old shoes as these tend to promote fungal growth which may lead to recurring infections. Else, you can treat your old shoes with anti fungal powders and disinfectants.
- Apply anti fungal powder inside your shoes and on your feet.
- Never trim the skin surrounding your nails as this may open a way for germs to infect your skin and nails.
- Never go barefooted to public areas so that you can avoid toenail infections.
- Do not use artificial nails and nail polishes to hide your nail fungal infections.
- Wash your hands with soap and water after touching the infected nails.