What are fungal nail infections?
Fungal nail infections affect both fingers and toes, though they are more common in toenails than fingernails. The technical name for a fungal nail infection is onychomycosis.
What causes fungal nail infections?
Our nails require constant maintenance in order to be kept neat and clean. When not properly cared for, our nails can become brittle and dry, resulting in cracks that allow fungi to enter. The most common cause of fungal nail infections is a type of fungus called dermatophyte. Yeast and mold as well as athlete’s foot can also cause fungal nail infections, spreading from one nail to another if left untreated. Other factors such as reduced blood circulation to the hands and feet and a weakened immune system may also contribute to the formation of fungal nail infections.
Am I at risk for a fungal nail infection?
Factors that can increase your risk of developing a fungal nail infection include:
- Reduced blood flow
- Heavy sweating, especially during physical activity
- A history of athlete’s foot
- Walking barefoot in damp communal areas, such as swimming pools, gyms, and shower rooms
- Sustaining a minor skin or nail injury
- Having a skin condition, such as psoriasis or eczema
- Having diabetes, circulation problems, or a weakened immune system
What are the signs and symptoms of fungal nail infections? What do fungal nail infections look like?
- Thickened nails
- Whitish to yellow-brown discoloration
- Brittle nail edges
- Nails that crumble when gently impacted
- Distorted nail shape
- Debris under the nail that reappears after cleaning
- Slightly bad smell
How can I avoid fungal nail infections?
- Keep your hands and feet clean and dry
- Trim nails often
- Trim nails straight across, smooth edges with a file, and file down thickened areas
- Using a nail brush, scrub the underside of nails with soap and water at least once a day
- When grooming nails at home, clean all tools before and after each use
- Don’t share nail clippers with other people. In a salon setting, make sure all tools are sterilized
- Choose a nail salon that is clean and licensed by the state’s cosmetology board
- Avoid biting or chewing nails
- Never rip or bite a hangnail. Instead, clip it with a clean, sanitized nail trimmer
- Wash your hands after touching an infected nail
- Wear sweat absorbing socks. On hot days, change your socks throughout the day
- Choose shoes made of materials that breathe
- Discard old shoes or treat them with disinfectants or antifungal powders
- Don’t walk barefoot in areas like locker rooms or public showers
What treatments are available for fungal nail infections?
Oral medications help new nails grow free of infection, slowly replacing the infected cells with healthy ones. Treatment with oral medication typically lasts for 6- 12 weeks, but final results will not be visible until new nail grows in completely.
Medicated Nail Polish
Available in both colored and clear formulas, antifungal nail polish is applied to infected nails and surrounding skin once a day. Every seven days, the nails must be thoroughly cleaned with alcohol. Depending on the extent of infection, it may be necessary to apply medicated nail polish daily for up to 18 months.
After thoroughly cleaning and soaking the hands, antifungal cream is applied to each infected nail. Topical creams work best when the nail is thinned.
In more severe cases of infection, your doctor may suggest temporary removal of the nail so that an extra strength antifungal drug can be applied under the nail directly onto the infected area.