Nail fungus is an infection of the nail itself or the skin beneath the nail.
What Causes Nail Fungus?
Fungi, the tiny organisms that cause fungal infections, thrive in warm, moist conditions. They are commonly found in swimming pools, showers, locker rooms and tight, sweaty shoes.
These organisms gain access to the nail through small cracks or breaks in the skin between the nail and the nail bed. The fungus can also be transmitted from person-to-person through intimate contact, and those with a weakened or impaired immune system are more prone to infections.
What are the Signs & Symptoms of Nail Fungus?
Nail fungus is more common on toenails because the feet are often in shoes. Fungi thrive in damp, dark environments such as this. Infected nails often appear:
Yellow to white in color and often thickened
Separated from the nail bed
Nails infected with fungus may be mildly painful and have a foul odor. Severe nail fungus infections can cause permanent nail damage.
How is Nail Fungus Treated?
Many people with nail fungus use vinegar or other home remedies and over-the-counter products to treat nail fungus. These treatments may be effective in mild cases, but stubborn nail fungus requires prescription medication and professional treatment.
For persistent infection, your dermatologist may prescribe oral antifungal medications for a period of 6-12 weeks. This allows the new nail to gradually grow back without infection.
Medicated nail lacquer may also be helpful in mild cases. Applied to the nails once a day, the medication requires long-term use with limited efficacy.
Other treatment options include: medicated prescription creams for infections of the skin, laser or light therapies, and nail removal.
Individuals with diabetes or poor circulation should visit a dermatology clinic for treatment of nail fungus, since the infection can progress and become more serious.
To help prevent nail fungus:
Keep hands, feet and nails clean and dry
Trim nails straight across
File thickened nails
Choose socks made of moisture-wicking fabrics
Change socks frequently
Treat shoes with disinfectants or antifungal powder
Allow feet to air dry occasionally, and avoid going barefoot in public areas