Posted by: Skin and Cancer Institute in Medical Dermatology

a provider looking at a person's toenails

Ah, summertime. The sun, the sand, the…nail fungus? Unfortunately, warmer weather and more time spent in public places put you at greater risk for contracting nail fungus. Nail fungus abounds in areas like hotel rooms, the perimeter of swimming pools, locker rooms, and public showers.

Nail fungus is a common condition that you want to avoid contracting. And, if you already have nail fungus, you may be wondering about the best way to get rid of it. This guide will give you everything you need to know about nail fungus, including what it is, how to treat it, and what you can do to prevent it from coming back. So if you’re dealing with a fungal nail infection, don’t despair—help is available.

What Is Nail Fungus?

Have you ever had a finger or toenail that turned yellow, became thick and brittle, and generally looked different? If so, then you’ve probably had a fungal nail infection. The technical name for this condition is onychomycosis, and a fungus called dermatophyte often causes it. They are tiny organisms that live on the dead tissue of the skin, hair, and nails.

When these fungi get into the nails, they can cause the nails to become thick, yellow, or brittle. Nail fungus can also cause the nails to separate from the nail bed. In severe cases, nail fungus can lead to loss of the nail.

Common Areas For Nail Fungus 

Nail fungus is more common in toenails than fingernails. That’s because the toenails are often confined in a dark and moist environment where fungi can thrive. Fingernails are also more likely to be exposed to sunlight and air, which can help kill fungi.

Who Is at Risk for Nail Fungus?

Anyone can get nail fungus, but some people are more likely to get it than others. People with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, are at higher risk for nail fungus. People who have a weakened immune system are also at higher risk. Also, nail fungus infections are more common as you age.

Factors that can increase your risk of getting nail fungus include:

  • Reduced blood flow
  • Heavy sweating during exercise and other physical activity
  • Having extra sweaty feet
  • Having wet hands and feet for long periods of time
  • Athlete’s foot history
  • Sustaining minor skin or nail injuries
  • Having psoriasis or eczema
  • Problems with circulation 
  • Wearing tight-fitting shoes or socks that don’t allow your feet to breathe
  • Walking barefoot in public places, including pools or locker rooms

What are the signs and symptoms of fungal nail infections?

The most common symptom of fungal nail infection is a change in the nail’s appearance. The nail may become thicker, discolored, or misshapen. In some cases, the nail may separate from the skin beneath it. If the infection is left untreated, it can spread to other nails or skin. Fungal nail infections look like this:

  • Whitish to yellow-brown discoloration
  • Nail edges that are brittle
  • Nails that crumble when touched 
  • A nail shape that looks distorted 
  • Under the nail debris that keeps coming back after cleaning
  • A bad smell

How Is Nail Fungus Diagnosed?

If you think you might have nail fungus, you must see a dermatologist for a diagnosis. They will likely ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine your nails and skin. In some cases, they may need to take a sample of your nail to test for the presence of fungus. Once nail fungus has been diagnosed, your doctor will work with you to develop a treatment plan.

How Is Nail Fungus Treated?

Nail fungus is usually treated with antifungal medications. These medications can be taken orally or applied to the nails. Common oral antifungal medications include terbinafine (Lamisil) and itraconazole (Sporanox). Topical antifungal medications include efinaconazole (Jublia).

Treatment for nail fungus often takes several weeks or months to work. It’s important to continue taking the medication for as long as your doctor recommends, even if your nails look better. Stopping treatment too soon can allow the fungus to come back.

Nail Fungus Surgery

Some people may also need surgery to remove the affected nail so that an extra-strength antifungal drug can be applied under the nail directly onto the infected area. This is typically only done for severe nail fungus that doesn’t respond to medication.

Medicated Nail Fungus Polish

Medicated nail polish is a nail fungus treatment applied once a day. The polish comes in clear and colored formulas, and it helps to kill the fungus while also protecting the nails from further infection. To use medicated nail polish, first clean the affected nails with alcohol. Then, apply a thin layer of polish to the nails and surrounding skin. Let the polish dry, and repeat this process once a day. Every seven days, clean the nails with alcohol again to remove any polish build-up. Depending on the severity of the infection, it may be necessary to use medicated nail polish for up to one year.

How Can Nail Fungus Be Prevented?

There are some simple precautions that you can take to help prevent getting nail fungus. First, always keep your nails clean and well-trimmed. This will help reduce the chances of bacteria and fungi becoming trapped under your nails. In addition, avoid walking barefoot in public places, such as locker rooms or pool areas. If you do come into contact with a surface that may be contaminated with fungus, be sure to wash your feet thoroughly as soon as possible. Finally, don’t share nail clippers or other personal care items with others. There are several other things you can do to help prevent nail fungus, including:

  • Keep hands and feet dry and clean
  • Cut nails straight across
  • Scrub the underside of nails with soap and water at least once a day
  • Clean all grooming tools before and after each use
  • Use your own nail clippers and don’t share them with other people. 
  • If you go to a nail salon, ensure they sterilize their tools
  • Only use a nail salon that is clean and licensed 
  • Avoid biting or chewing nails
  • Don’t tear a hangnail. Clip it instead. 
  • If you touch an infected nail, wash your hands 
  • Wear socks that absorb sweat.
  • Change your socks often on hot days 
  • Choose shoes with breathable material 
  • Toss old shoes 
  • Use  disinfectants or antifungal powders to treat shoes
  • Don’t walk barefoot in areas like locker rooms or public showers
  • Wear socks and shoes that allow your feet to breathe
  • Avoiding sharing towels, shoes, or other personal items with someone who has nail fungus
  • If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar under control
  • Talk to your doctor about ways to keep your immune system strong if you have a weakened immune system 

Conclusion

Nail fungus is a common condition that can be difficult to treat. However, there are several things you can do to help prevent it. If you think you might have nail fungus, you must see a dermatologist for a diagnosis. Treatment for nail fungus often takes several weeks or months to work. It’s important to continue taking the medication for as long as your doctor recommends, even if your nails look better. Stopping treatment too soon can allow the fungus to come back.

If you’re dealing with yellow, brittle, or otherwise unhealthy-looking nails, it may be time to see a dermatologist. Nail fungus is a common problem and can be tough to treat on your own. At the Skin and Cancer Institute, we can help you clear up the infection and get your nails looking healthy again. Contact us today for an appointment.