Fungal nail infections are very common and in most cases are not serious. A nail can become infected when there is an imbalance in fungi. The fungus overgrows and multiplies when the nail is in a warm, dark and moist environment and causes the nail to become infected. Fungal nail infections occur mostly on toenails as they’re confined in shoes most of the time. The infection causes the nail to become discoloured, brittle and distorted in appearance.
Fungal nail infections can be difficult to treat and it may take a long time before the nail is rid of infection. Antifungal treatments are prescribed to fight the infection, but removal of the nail may be required in severe cases. Nail infections can lead to more serious complications particularly for those who suffer from diabetes as any minor problems with the feet can develop into something more serious. Good foot hygiene is the best way to avoid catching a fungal nail infection.
“Fungal nail infections are very common and are caused by an overgrowth of fungi in the nail. The effects of this infection can be uncomfortable and unsightly and in some cases it may need treatment if the symptoms are bothersome. It’s important to keep your feet clean and dry by washing regularly, changing socks regularly and wearing footwear that allows your feet to breathe. Failing this, there are antifungal treatments such as terbinafine which stops the fungus from multiplying, and therefore combating the infection.”
What is a fungal nail infection?
A fungal nail infection, otherwise known as onychomycosis is a fungal infection of the nail. Fungi can overgrow in any part of the body which can cause infection, but onychomycosis specifically affects the nail. Toenails are more prone to fungal infections but this can also happen in fingernails. Fungal nail infections are not usually serious but the effects can be uncomfortable and unpleasant and tricky to treat. The signs and symptoms of a fungal nail infection do not occur suddenly, they will develop over time and eventually cause the nail to become discoloured and brittle.
As well as discoloured and weakened nails, the nails may become thickened and have the following symptoms:
- White or yellow streaks on the nail
- Yellow spots
- Crumbling on the tip or corner of the nail
- An odor around the infected nail
- Scaling under the skin
- Loss of nail or the nail lifting off from the nail bed
The nail will also become painful when infected and the skin around may be itchy, red and swollen. The infection will usually spread from the edges to the middle of the nail.
What causes fungal nail infections?
Fungi is the common cause of nail infections, it is the same fungi that causes athlete’s foot which causes fungal nails infections. If you have athlete's foot you’re more at risk of developing a fungal nail infection so it’s important to get athlete’s foot treated straight away to avoid this.
Fungi thrives in warm, dark and moist environments and as feet are always in this environment fungal infections are more likely to occur as fungi is able to multiply and spread. This is why toenails are more affected by fungal infections as they’re always in the dark, warm and moist environment of shoes.
Not keeping your feet clean and dry and wearing shoes that suffocate your feet making them hot and sweaty (the perfect environment for fungi) can cause a fungal infection of the nail. Avoid walking around barefoot in places where fungi is more likely to spread such as gyms and communal showers as this may cause you to become infected.
Some health conditions may also cause fungal nail infections such as psoriasis as you can develop psoriasis of the nail as well as the skin. Fungal nail infections are also likely to occur in people who have peripheral arterial disease or diabetes. Diabetics should pay close attention to any foot problems and injuries as they can lead to serious complications.
Are there complications of fungal nail infections?
Although in most cases fungal nail infections are not serious and are quite common, for some in can lead to further complications. Like a lot of infections if they’re left untreated they can worsen and become difficult to treat. Fungal nail infections may lead to skin infections such as cellulitis.
If the infection is left untreated the nail may become permanently damaged and distorted and you may lose the nail as they become severely brittle. When the nail becomes permanently damaged it may need to be removed.
One of the main complications of fungal nail infection is that it may return time and time again and is difficult to treat. The infection may also spread to other parts of the body and can be particularly dangerous if an infection enters the bloodstream.
Complications are more susceptible in people with low immune systems and diabetics. Diabetes can cause reduced blood circulation and nerve supply in the feet and therefore small, insignificant foot problems or injuries can turn into major complications.
Can fungal nail infections be treated?
Unless the infection is severe and causing pain and discomfort it may not need to be treated, but if the appearance is bothering you there are treatments available. There are a range of antifungal products available which help fight the infection in the form of tablets and nail paints which are applied directly onto the nail. Nail softening kits are also used to soften the infected nail and remove the infected parts through scraping with a device. Antifungal tablets fight the infection by stopping the fungus from multiplying. Antifungal tablets contain the active ingredient terbinafine which inhibits the component that helps the fungi to multiply, this component is known as ergosterol. Antifungal treatments available to buy at Doctor-4-U include:
- Trosyl Nail Solution
- Amorolfine Nail Lacquer
If antifungal treatments have not worked or if your infection is too severe for these treatments, there are other options available. Laser treatment is sometimes used to destroy the fungus but it is not a routine treatment and can only be used in severe cases. If the infection has damaged the nail beyond repair, minor surgery may be required to remove the nail. This will allow for antifungal medicine to be applied directly under the nail, however, if there is no response to this and the infection persists and causes severe pain, permanent removal of the nail may be necessary.
How to prevent fungal nail infections
Preventing contracting the infection is the best way to avoid all of the discomfort or complications that come with fungal nail infections. Practicing good hygiene will help to avoid catching a fungal nail infections. To prevent the infection you should:
- Wash your hands and feet regularly, and wash hands thoroughly after touching an infected nail
- Wear breathable shoes
- Change socks throughout the day
- Always wear footwear around gyms, pool areas, locker rooms
- Sanitize nail tools such as nail clippers after each use
- Trim nails straight across and file down thickened parts of the nail