Onychomycosis (on-i-ko-mi-KO-sis) or nail fungal infection, is the most common disease of the nails and makes up about half of all nail abnormalities. It affects toenails primarily but it can also affect fingernails as well.
Nail fungus is an annoying, potentially painful, and unsightly problem that affects 6-8% of the adult population.
Symptoms and Description
An infection of nail fungus can start out as a white or yellow spot under the tip of the fingernail or toenail. As the fungus spreads deeper into the nail, it may cause the nail to discolor, thicken and get crumbly and brittle on the edges.
There are different classifications of nail fungus that depend on the particular type of fungus and how it manifests itself, which means the signs and symptoms may vary slightly. However, onychomycosis can usually be recognized if one or more of your nails are:
- Brittle, crumbly or ragged
- Distorted in shape
- A dark color caused by debris building up under your nail
Infected nails may also separate from the nail bed, this is called onycholysis. If this occurs your fingertips and toes may feel pain and you may smell a slightly foul odor. Generally onychomycosis causes no pain or other bodily symptoms, unless the disease is severe. It is advisable to see your doctor at the first sign of nail fungus.
Causes of Nail Fungus
Fungi are microscopic organisms that do not require sunlight to survive. Some are beneficial but others cause illness and infections like onychomycosis. Fungi live in warm, moist places and can enter your skin through tiny cuts or in the space between your nail and nail bed.
Fungi cause problems when the nails are consistently exposed to a warm and moist environment that the fungi can thrive in and spread.
Nail fungus infections are most commonly caused by a fungus that belongs to a group of fungi called dermatophytes which typically affects those in temperate western countries. Candida and other non-dermatophytic molds are usually the cause of infections in the tropics and subtropics where it is hot and humid.
Because toenails are often confined inside shoes and socks where it is dark, warm and moist; they are usually where the infections occur. Toes are more likely to have a diminishing blood circulation than fingernails which means it’s harder for your body’s immune system to deal with the infection.
Aging is unfortunately the most common risk factor for nail fungus for several reasons. One being the diminished blood circulation. Another simply being more years of exposure to the fungi and, in addition, aging nails grow slower and thicken naturally making them more susceptible to the infection.
Other things that can increase your risk of getting onychomycosis are:
- Heavy sweating
- Activities in humid or moist environments
- Wearing socks or shoes with poor ventilation that don’t absorb sweat
- Walking barefoot in damp public places, like shower rooms, gyms, or swimming pools
- Having athlete’s foot (tinea pedis)
- Having the skin condition psoriasis
- Having a minor skin or nail injury, damaged nail, or another infection
- Having diabetes, circulation problems or a poor immune system
If severe enough nail fungus can be painful and cause irreversible damage to your nails. In more serious cases, it can lead to other infections that can spread beyond your feet if you have a suppressed immune system due to medication, diabetes or other conditions.
Toe Fungus Treatments
With the right toe fungus treatment, you should be able to get rid of a nail infection caused by fungus, even if it is an extreme case or you’ve had it for years. It can take months to clear up though so you may have to be patient.
Nail fungus can be difficult to treat, and repeat infections are common. It is helpful to keep your feet clean and dry.
It is best to have your doctor examine your nails first. The doctor will test for fungi and examine it to find out the cause of the infection. Knowing the cause of onychomycosis helps determine the best course for treatment.
To treat nail fungus a doctor may advise an oral antifungal medication. Studies have shown the most effective of these treatments to be terbinafine (Lamisil) and itraconazole (Sporanox).
These medications help a new nail grow free of infection and slowly replace the infected part of the nail. Typically you would take these medications for 6-12 weeks. The results of the treatment won’t be seen until the nail grows back completely. It may takes 4 months or longer to eliminate and infection.
Anti-fungal drugs can cause side-effects like skin rashes or even liver damage. Doctors may not recommend them for people with liver disease or congestive heart failure or if they are already taking certain medications.
If you have a mild or moderate infection of nail fungus it may be beneficial to get an anti-fungal lacquer treatment. These may also take time with daily applications but can also be very effective. Here are a 3 natural toe fungus treatments that have been ranked as per effectiveness:
3) Nail Rx
If the right toe fungus treatment is chosen and applied correctly you should be able to be rid a nail fungal infection in just a few months with ease.