No one likes having unsightly nails, particularly on your feet in the summertime. Toenail fungus can cramp your style, limiting your fashion choices and making barefoot fun embarrassing. Any time of year, this common toenail condition makes many people shy about getting close to others. So, what causes toenail fungus, and what can you do about it?
About Toenail Fungus
Toenail fungus is more common than you may think. This condition starts with a little yellow or white spot under the tip of your nail. From there, the infection penetrates more deeply, causing discoloration of your whole nail. Over time and left untreated, it can spread from one nail to the next, to the next. Then your nails discolour, thicken and crumble.
A mild condition of fungus on your nail does not always require nail treatment. But spreading fungus, painful thickening or other bothersome effects necessitate nail repair. Some medications can help, as can some self-care methods. But others do nothing at all. Even when treatment helps, the problem often returns.
This nail condition is called onychomycosis by doctors. When the fungus spreads to your skin on your feet and between your toes, it is called athlete’s foot or tinea pedis.
Symptoms of Toenail Fungus
Toenail fungus is easy to recognize. You can tell you have this common condition if you meet some of the below criteria:
- White to yellow-brown colouring of the nail
- Ragged, brittle or crumbling nails
- Nail shape changes
- Dark colour from built-up debris under the nail
- Slightly foul smell from the nail material
- Spread from one toe to another
Do I need nail repair?
Nail repair starts with seeing your doctor. Most people first try at-home treatments. But if your nail does not improve and shows more discoloration over time, grows thicker or is deformed, you need to see a foot specialist, called a podiatrist. Nail fungus is dangerous for people with some health problems, particularly for those with diabetes. This makes it very important to see your doctor early in the fungal infection’s development.
Causes of Toenail Fungus
Fungal infections of the nail develop from fungal organisms, particularly the type called a dermatophyte. Nail infections can also happen from yeasts and moulds. People of any age can develop these conditions, but they most commonly affect older adults.
The fungus typically enters the nail through a crack in its surface. Poor blood circulation to your feet and immune system disorders can also play a role. For many people, toenail fungus starts from athlete’s foot. The condition rarely transmits from one person to another, however.
Risk factors for toenail fungal infection include:
- Older age
- Reduced blood flow to your foot
- Slow growing nails
- Heavy sweating
- History of athlete’s foot
- Walking barefoot in communal areas
- Existing nail or skin injury
- Circulation problems
- Weakened immune system
Prevention of Toenail Fungus
To prevent the development of toenail fungus or reinfections, take the following measures:
- Wash feet regularly
- Wash hands after touching an infected nail
- Moisturize nails after washing
- Trim nails straight across
- File down thickened areas and smooth nail edges
- Disinfect nail clippers with each use
- Wear absorbent socks
- Wear shoes made of breathable material
- Throw out old shoes
- Use antifungal powder in shoes
- Wear shower shoes in locker rooms, communal showers and pool areas
- Only visit salons where manicure tools are sterilized between every customer
- Stop using nail polish or artificial nails
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