“My toenail so black and thick…what causing that?” many clients ask. And let’s not forget the masqueraders . . . “my nails were lovely until in the band I kept getting mash and now my big toenail drop off.” I’m a masquerader myself and have been victim to lost toenails…all part of d thing! Amazingly though . . . fungal nail infections affect approximately 25% of the world’s population!
What is a fungal nail infection?
When an attack on a fingernail, toenail, or the skin under the nail, called the nail bed has occurred, it is a fungal nail infection. Fungi can attack your nails through small cuts in the skin around your nail or through the opening between your nail and nail bed.
If you are healthy, a fungal nail infection probably won’t cause serious problems. But it may look bad, hurt, or damage your nail or nail bed. It could lead to more serious problems if you have diabetes or a weak immune system.
Many people have thickened, discoloured toenails and fingernails. A number of these abnormal nails are due to a fungal infection of the nail bed or nail plate. The medical term for this type of fungal infection is onychomycosis. And please . . . I want to stress . . . though you may not be feeling pain, doesn’t mean the nail isn’t infected!
What causes a fungal nail infection?
Fungi grow best in warm, moist places, and can spread from person to person. You can get a fungal nail infection from walking barefoot in public showers or pools, or by sharing personal items, such as towels and nail clippers. If you have athlete’s foot, the fungus can spread from your skin to your nails.
The following are instances that either promote fungal infection or encourage growth of fungi:
- Tight footwear – which promotes crowding of the toes and keeps the toes warm and moist – a perfect environment for growth.
- Exercise – can cause repeated minor trauma to the nail bed allowing fungi to invade.
- Communal showers – can expose the feet to fungi.
- Diseases – such as diabetes, that influence the immune system making it easier for a fungal infection to start.
However, you’re at greater risk of getting a nail infection if you:
- Are older than 60.
- Have diabetes or a weak immune system.
- Have a nail injury like an ingrown toenail.
- Wear shoes that make your feet moist or sweaty.
- Live or work in a hot, humid place (local construction sites) for instance.
What are the symptoms?
Signs of a fungal nail infection include nails that are:
- Discoloured (usually white, yellow, green or black)
- Crumbly, or have rough, jagged edges
- Separated from the nail bed (Hollow)
- Curled up or down, or are distorted in shape.
When you have a fungal nail infection, it can be uncomfortable or even painful to wear shoes, walk, or stand for a long time. The fungus could also spread to other nails or your skin. Over time, if not addressed, the infection can cause permanent damage to your nail or nail bed.
How is a fungal nail infection diagnosed?
Your doctor/chiropodist/podiatrist/foot health practitioner could diagnose a fungal nail infection by looking at the nail, asking about your symptoms and past health. Getting a history of what is causing the infection can help you get the best treatment. Other diseases that can cause thickened nails are psoriasis and eczema. Toenails are four times more likely to be infected than finger nails.
How is it treated?
Whether to treat a fungal nail infection is up to you. If it’s not treated, rest assured it won’t go away; instead it might get worse. But fungal infections can be hard to treat. If you do treat it, it could be expensive, and there are no guarantees that any particular treatment might work. Each case varies! It requires commitment on the part of the client to use the relevant treatment for several months in some instances.
If you decide to treat a fungal nail infection, you need to try an antifungal regime which includes therapeutic pedicure treatments and products. You may need to use this regime for a few weeks or for as long as a year. Even so, it may not get rid of the infection. In some cases, surgery may even be required to remove the nail, through an operation that’s done under local anaesthetic.
What can I do to take care of my nails?
Here are some things you can do to take care of your nails if you have a fungal infection:
- Keep your nails cut short and file down any thick areas.
- Don’t use the same nail trimmer or file on healthy nails and infected nails.
- Wear waterproof gloves for wet work (such as washing dishes or floors) to protect your fingers.
- For the men…change your socks when they are damp from sweat or if your feet get wet. Use clean, dry socks every day.
- Wear shoes with good support and a wide toe area. Don’t wear pointed tips that press your toes together.
- Avoid walking barefooted.
Do you have fungal nail infection? Have it checked as soon as possible to minimise the chances of it spreading or worsening, and possibly taking longer to heal!