| One of the most common nail ailments, accounting for at least half of all nail disorders,
is nail fungus. Most often it affects the nails of the toes, but could also affect
the fingernails. Nails are relatively tough and that is why they serve so well to
protect our fingers and toes against dirt, injury and infections, however if it
does gets infected with a fungus it is also very tough to cure, and fungal infections
may recur. There are a number of medications that may be applied to help cure and
clear up nails from this ailment.
Nail fungus, also known as onychomycosis, may infect one or more nails and starts
on the tip of the nails and as the infection progresses moves deeper and deeper
into the nail. The earlier it is caught the easier it is to cure. Unlike infections
of the cuticles caused by dirt and athlete's foot, nail fungus as the name suggest
is an ailment of the nails and not the skin. However, though nail fungus and athlete's
foot are different issues, they may be caused by the same type of fungus and occur
at the same time. In addition, nail polish, especially dark nail polish that doesn't
allow sun light to penetrate through, when applied to moist nails may trap the moisture
creating a great environment for the fungus to develop and grow.
Nail fungus is a serious infection that should be treated as soon as it is discovered,
especially for people with weakened immune system and those with diabetes. People
with diabetes heal with great difficulty and the damage caused by the nail fungus
infection could cause open sores and very serious complications. Ignoring it
not only makes it harder to treat, but it could also permanently damage the nails,
cause other infections and spread to other tissues and organs. As soon as you observe
any of the symptoms of nail fungus described below you should consult your physician.
If you catch the infection in time the treatment might be easier to handle than if you
let it develop into a more serious problem.
Because with age, nails become thicker and grow more slowly, older people are more
prone to these infections. Men are also more often affected by these infections
than women, but disregarding the gender, people with family history of such infections
are also generally more susceptible to them. Besides working or living in conditions
that put people in warm, dark and humid environment there are a number of other
factors that put people more at risk of developing a nail fungus infections, such as
smoking, heavy perspiration, skin and nail injuries, problems with circulation
as well as weakened immune system and diabetes.
Below is some information about nail fungus and how to deal with it.
What to Look For
What Causes the Infection
How Nail Fungus is Treated
How to Prevent a Nail Fungus Infection
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
In the beginning, nail fungus infection appears at the tip of the nail as white or
yellow spots, and as it moves in deeper into the nail it eats away at the underside
of the nail, and all the dead cells pile up and may change the color of the nail
to yellow, green, brown and even black. Besides changing color, the nail may thicken,
become brittle, with crumbling and ragged edges, and crumble very easily. While
these changes occur under the nail, on the top of the nail might loose its shine,
and start changing its shape. In addition as the infection progresses the nails
may separate from the nail bed and, as it is rotted through by the infection, give
out an odor. In addition when the fungus starts affecting the skin around the nail,
the skin will start itching, and becomes reddish. The discomfort caused around the cuticle
might not be felt right away, but in extreme cases when the nail detaches from the
nail bed, bleeding may occur.
You need to clean and check the appearance of your nails regularly to catch these symptoms
so that this infection
may be caught and treated without causing too much damage. This is not just an issue
of unsightly appearance and aesthetics, as the nail breaks off it leaves the toes
and fingers exposed to other infections, dirt and causes considerable pain and serious
WHAT CAUSES THE INFECTION
Fungi are microscopic organisms, which do not require sun to grow, but rather a
warm and moist environment. There are many different kinds of fungi, and some fungus cultures
have useful uses, while others cause infection and pain. Nail fungus is caused by
a fungus, most often belonging to the group called dermatophytes, however they could
also be caused by molds and yeasts that develop in similar environments and conditions.
Toes and fingers that are continuously exposed to such conditions, for example shower
floors, swimming pools or sweaty socks, are a perfect incubation place for such
infection to develop and grow.
The fungus may enter your skin and get under your nails through the tiniest of cuts
as well as small spaces that might occur between the nail and the nail bed that
might occur in an injury. However, these organisms are around at all times and cause
problems only if the conditions for their growth are favorable (warm and moist)
for a continuous, prolonged period of time, otherwise the fungus will starve and
not cause any problems.
As was said earlier toenails are much more often prone to these infections because
they are more often kept in perfect growing environment for the fungus, the dark,
warm, moist conditions within socks and shoes. And when such problems occur, instead
of dealing with the issue, many people tend to hide them in socks and shoes, only
increasing the conditions that cause the problem and let the fungus thrive. One
more cause for the fungus to occur more often on the toenails is the fact that the
blood circulation of the toes is less than that of fingers.
Nail Fungus could be a contagious infection. Besides spreading from one nail to
many and then to other parts of the body it may also be spread from one person to
another. Because fungi can live in water and moist air, be careful in places where
many people might walk with bare feet, like locker rooms, public showers or a swimming
pool. Besides physically touching nails to infected nails the fungus may also be
passed to other people on the dirty pedicure and manicure equipment, which is why
it is important to sterilize all of your grooming instruments well, and is preferable
to use your personal instruments and not share them with anyone.
HOW NAIL FUNGUS IS TREATED
You physician will be best equipped to tell you how your type of fungus
should be treated most effectively. Not all nail problems that have similar
appearance are necessarily nail fungus infections, that is why your doctor will
most probably first take a sample of the affected nail and test it to see if the
problem is caused by the fungus. Knowing exactly what is causing your particular
problem will determine the treatment.
- Creams & Ointments
If the doctor does determine that the issue is indeed a fungus infection, there are
a number of treatments that might be offered. Keep in mind that the treatments might
need to be repeated to completely get rid of the infection. In simpler cases
the doctor might recommend over-the-counter antifungal creams or ointments. They
might cause less overall harm, but they are also less effective.
- Nail Polish
In mild cases your physician might suggest a treatment using an antifungal nail
polish, also called Penlac, or ciclopirox. It is painted daily onto the infected
nails and the skin surrounding it for a week. After seven days the layers of the
medicated nail polish are removed and the treatment is repeated for up to a year
or even longer. This treatment was more effective than the creams and ointments,
but research also shows that it completely cured less than 10% of cases in which
it was used, even when used regularly.
- Oral Medication
The most effective antifungal treatment is the oral medication and currently there
are a number of them on the market:
Lamisil, or terbinafine
Sporanox, or itraconazole
Diflucan, or fluconazole
These medications work to get rid of the infection from inside, by killing the fungus
and gradually allowing the infected nail to get replaced with a newly grown out
healthy nail. The course of treatment with oral medications is usually shorter,
up to three months, but the results are not seen right away, not until the damaged
nail grows out completely. To improve the outcome of the treatment, doctors might
recommend use of an external antifungal cream or lotion in addition to the oral
It could take up to a year to completely get rid of the infection. Though these
medications are more effective, it is possible that after the treatment
fungal infection may reoccur, especially if the conditions for the nails are not
Also, these medications could have very strong side effects, from skin rashes to
damaging the liver. The doctors will not recommend these medications to patients
with liver or heart diseases. If the patient does not have any prior liver or heart
complications before prescribing these medications your physician will first test
your liver to see if it can handle these medications. To prevent any complications
while the patients are taking these medications they may not consume alcohol.
- Surgical Treatment
If the nail infection is at the extreme stage, is very painful and/or if any other
treatments are not possible your physician may suggest surgically removing your
nail. In most cases a new, healthy nail grows in the place of the removed one.
HOW TO PREVENT A NAIL FUNGUS INFECTION
Last but far from least, the best treatment for the nail fungus is to never get
it. Follow these simple rules to prevent nail fungus from occurring.
Even if you can't avoid the fungus itself you can deprive it from the conditions
that it needs to grow and develop. It is important to regularly clean and review
your nails. Regular grooming of your toenails and fingernails should be a basic
part of your standard hygiene.
One basic hygiene rule, don't pull at your cuticle and skin around the nails, will prevent
the tears and nicks that would allow fungus to enter under the nail
In addition, you should keep your feet and hands clean and dry. Even if you have
to wear socks at all times there are synthetic socks that take away any moisture
that forms during perspiration and some could keep your feet cooler.
Make sure to keep your personal grooming instruments clean, sterilized and not shared
with anybody else. If you do go to a salon, make sure that they reputable, in addition,
you may bring your own instruments for each treatment. From time to time give your
nails a rest from nail polishes and other products.
When attending a public locker room, shower, or pool, don't go barefoot, and use an
antifungal spray or powder inside your socks and shoes.
If you have to continuously work with water, wear rubber gloves and when not in use,
let the gloves dry out well both inside and out.
Whether you came in contact with an infected nail or not, wash your hands so that
you don't unknowingly spread the infection.