Onychomycosis, more commonly referred to as nail fungus, is an infection that results to discolored and disfigured nails. There are two types of fungus that cause nail infections.
Dermatophytes more commonly cause toenail fungus while yeast, particularly Candida, more often infect fingernails. Any of these two types of fungus can infect the nails by entering into any tiny cuts in the skin or in the space between the hard shell or the nail plate and the underlying connecting tissue or the nail bed.
Roughly 12% of the American population is infected with nail fungus. The affliction is more commonly observed on toenails rather than fingernails. A probable reason is that the toes get lesser blood circulation than fingers and therefore have minimal chances of fighting off infection.
Likewise, adults over 60 are more at risk of nail fungus due to weaker blood circulation. Nails tend to thicken and their growth decelerates with age, thus making them more susceptible to fungal attack.
Some people may be genetically predisposed to fungal infection. Those with diabetes or any other ailment that come with poor blood circulation and weak immune system are more susceptible to fungal infections in general, including nail fungus.
Nail fungus usually starts out as a yellow or white spot under the tip of a nail which may develop in time to discoloration of the entire nail plate. As the fungus continues to grow and feed on the nail plate's keratin, the nail thickens and becomes brittle. In time, it may become too overgrown that it causes pain, especially when wearing shoes. The dark-colored debris that accumulates in between the nail plate and the nail bed may also cause foul odor. In some cases, the nail may crumble off or detach from the nail bed.
Any infection, including nail fungus, should never be treated lightly. It may spread to other nails, and in worst cases, on other parts of the body as well. Those who have a vulnerable immune system due to disease or medication should take fungal infections seriously and seek immediate medical attention.
Fungal infections in general are difficult to treat completely. They often recur mostly because the cause of infection is not totally eliminated. Ointments and creams that are available over-the-counter are often not effective in treating the ailment. Doctors would most likely recommend oral medication to treat nail fungal infection. Common oral medications for treating fungal infection are Sporanox, Diflucan, and Lamisil.
Treatment of fungal infections can be long drawn. Oral medication usually takes a course of 6 to 12 weeks. Doctors may also recommend using topical solution in conjunction with the oral medication. But it may take as much as 4 months or more to completely eradicate fungus.
In extreme cases, the doctor may have the infected nail removed so as to permit direct application of a topical solution to the underlying tissue.
Doctors may also prescribe a special nail polish called Penlac to patients with mild to moderate fungal infections.
Nevertheless, nothing beats good hygiene in order to prevent the onslaught or recurrence of fungal infection. It is of utmost importance to always keep the hands and feet dry. Keep your bare feet off wet floors in public baths, pools and locker rooms. Ditch the polish and artificial nails for covering up unsightly infections. And never forget to wash hands thoroughly after touching infected nail.