How to prevent a toenail fungal infection
I think we all remember those antifungal commercials that made our skin crawl. The ads featured an animated, creepy looking creature that crawls beneath a toenail. The pest’s name was Digger and he was a dermatophyte, a nail infection. Even though I’m a podiatrist and work with feet and toenails daily, to this day the thought of that commercial, and Digger, makes me cringe.
So, what is a fungal nail infection? Nail infections can be caused by various fungal organisms, not nearly as scary or gruesome as Digger in real life. The most common cause of fungal nail infections is by a type of fungus called a dermatophyte. Yeast and molds can also cause nail infections.
- Being older. Fungal nails occur in 10% of the general population, 20% in those older than 60, and 50% in those older than 70.
- Sweating heavily
- Having a history of athlete's foot
- Walking barefoot in public areas
- Having an injury to the nail
- Having diabetes, circulation problems, or a weakened immune system
How can I help prevent a fungal infection?
- Wear shoes that breathe well.
- Checking for signs of Athlete’s foot
- Avoid cutting of cuticles
- Keeping feet cool and dry, change socks and shoes if they become damp
- Wearing shoes in public areas
- Avoidance of shared, nail equipment
What are the symptoms?
- Nails that are thickened
- Nails that are discolored yellow or brown.
- Nails that are more brittle or lift, crumble, or flake.
- Nails that are distorted in shape
How is it diagnosed?
A physical exam of the nail is performed. A sample of the nail is often sent to the lab for tests to identify the cause of the nail changes and help determine the most effective treatment. Since only about one-half of nail dystrophies are caused by fungus, it is important to confirm the diagnosis by culture.
How is it treated?
If your condition is mild and not bothering you, you may not need treatment. If your nail fungus is painful or the cosmetic appearance of your nails bothers you, there are several different treatment options.
- Topical medications
- Oral medications
- Nail Removal: either temporary or permanently
- Home remedies (eg. mentholated topical ointment, tea tree oil)
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