It is not just a cosmetic problem; fungal nail infection t is an infection of the bed and plate underlying the surface of a nail. Often called onychomycosis (ON-i-ko-my-KO-sis), it is caused primarily by organisms called dermatophytes. It is extraordinarily common, afflicting more than 35 million people in the United States alone.
Once these tiny organisms find their way under a nail, they begin to multiply. Ironically, when the fungus finds its way under the nail, the nail itself provides a protective environment for the fungus to thrive. The toenails are most vulnerable to infection, since they spend much of their day surrounded by dark, warm and often moist shoes and socks.
When fungal nail infection begins to take hold, it can cause the nail to change colour, often to a yellow/green or darker colour. Debris may collect under the nail, causing a foul smell. The nail may thicken and become flaky. Thick toenails, in particular, may cause discomfort in shoes and may even make standing and walking uncomfortable for some people.
Moreover, it can spread to other nails, and possibly to other people. Something as ordinary as an emery board can carry the fungal organisms from an infected nail to a non-infected one. That’s why it is so important to seek treatment as soon as you think you have an infection.
Only your doctor can determine for sure if you have fungal nail infection. He will take a small sample of the debris under your nail, as well as some nail clippings, and have them analyzed to see if fungus is present
How do you get it?
Fungal nail infection has little to do with personal cleanliness. Something as simple as banging a toe or finger, trimming your nails too closely or wearing tight shoes is enough to weaken the nail and expose the underlying nail bed to infection. The fungus that causes the infection resides in many common places: locker rooms, swimming pools, showers, even your garden. You can also contract the infection while getting a manicure or pedicure, from unsterilized instruments that have been used on others with the infection.
Some people have chronic disorders that make them more susceptible to fungal nail infection. People with diabetes, circulatory problems and immunological deficiencies (such as AIDS/HIV infection) are at an increased risk, as are the elderly.
Moreover, fungal nail infection appears to be more prevalent in those with a history of athlete’s foot (a fungal infection of the skin) and people whose feet perspire a lot.
How do you treat it?
Fungal nail infection will not go away by itself. Only your doctor can prescribe effective treatments for fungal nail infections.
What can you do?