What is a fungal nail infection?
A fungal nail infection, also called Onychomycosis, is an infection underneath the nail with a fungal micro-organism. Many people do not realize that the changes in their nails are due to a fungus, and they do not seek treatment. Without treatment, the nail fungus will persist for many years and can spread to all nails.
Causes of a fungal nail infection
A group of fungi called dermatophytes thrive in warm, moist areas such as between your toes and under your toenails. They thrive off keratin, the nail’s protein substance. People who suffer from chronic diseases, such as diabetes, circulatory problems, or immune-deficiency conditions are especially prone to fungal nail infections. Other contributing factors may be a history of Athlete’s foot and excessive perspiration.
Symptoms of a fungal nail infection
Symptoms associated with a fungal nail infection include:
- Debris under the nail plate with white marks on the nail
- Thickening of the nail with dark discoloration
- A foul smell coming from the nail
- Pain under the nail with pressure from shoes
- A secondary bacterial infection in or about the nail plate
- Signs of infection spreading to other toenails or skin
Diagnosis of a fungal nail infection
Nails can thicken and become discolored for many reasons. The only way to get a definitive diagnosis of onychomycosis is with a nail biopsy, which must be performed by a physician. A large sample of the nail is removed and sent to a pathologist, who stains the nail to determine the presence of fungus.
Treating a fungal nail infection
Treatment approaches for a fungal nail infection include:
- Good foot hygiene including controlling moisture with powder, spraying shoes with an antimicrobial, and wearing clean socks daily
- A prescription topical and/or oral medication
- Removal of the diseased nail by a process called debridement
- Surgical removal of the infected nail.
How to prevent a fungal nail infection
- Keep your feet clean and dry
- Regularly inspect your feet and nails
- Wear shower shoes in public facilities whenever possible
- Use a foot powder if your feet perspire a lot
- Wear socks blended with polyester which wick away moisture
- Disinfect your pedicure instruments and shoes with an antimicrobial spray
- Refrain from applying polish to infected toenails