A fungal nail infection, also known as onychomycosis or tinea unguium, is a common condition where a fungus infects a part or the entirety of a toenail or fingernail. This condition can affect either the nail or the area under the nail.

Fungal nail infections often start from a fungal skin infection, like athlete’s foot, or from damage to the nail. After the fungus invades the nail, it grows and spreads, causing symptoms such as discoloration (the nails might turn yellow, white, or brown), thickening, and crumbling of the nail. In few cases, the infection can also cause pain.

Fungal nail infections are more common in toes than fingers because the fungus thrives in warm, dark, damp places such as inside shoes and socks. If left untreated, the infection may spread to other nails and to other people.

Nail Infection

While fungal nail infections can be difficult to treat and may recur, they are generally not serious except for individuals with a weakened immune system or those with diabetes. Typically, antifungal medications are prescribed to clear the infection. It’s always best to consult with a doctor or a dermatologist to get proper treatment.

Causes of Fungal nail infection

Fungal nail infection, also known as Onychomycosis, is caused by various types of fungi, including dermatophytes, yeasts, and molds. Here are some of the most likely causes:

1. Dermatophytes: These are the most common type of fungi that cause nail infections. They are primarily found in humans and animals and can also live in the soil. They cause infections by invading the skin through small cuts or by getting under the nail bed.

2. Yeasts: Candida is a type of yeast that can cause nail infections. Unlike dermatophytes, yeasts can inhabit the skin without causing infections, but they may cause problems if they procreate excessively or get into the bloodstream.

3. Molds: Certain types of molds can also lead to nail infections. They usually exist in our environment and can cause infections when they invade the nail or get under the nail bed.

Other causes may be related to the individual’s health, environment, or lifestyle. They include:

4. Aging: As we age, our nails become more brittle and dry, creating cracks that allow fungi to enter.

5. Poor immune system: People with weakened immune systems, for instance, due to certain medications, diseases or treatments, are more susceptible to fungal infections.

6. Diabetes: Diabetic individuals are more prone to fungal infections because of compromised immune systems.

7. Lack of hygiene: Not keeping feet clean and dry can make it easier for fungi to invade the nails.

8. Prolonged exposure to moist environments: This includes spending a lot of time in wet shoes or socks or communal bathing places.

9. Direct contact with someone who has a fungal infection: This could happen in places like communal showers, gyms, swimming pools, or by sharing towels or footwear.

10. Nail trauma: Creating a crack in the nail can provide entry for the fungi.

It’s critical to maintain proper hygiene and care for your nails to prevent fungal nail infections. Consulting a healthcare professional is advised if any signs of nail fungus are noticed. They can provide appropriate treatment options.

Risk Factors of Fungal nail infection

Fungal nail infections, also known as onychomycosis or tinea unguium, can be caused by various types of fungi. Multiple factors can increase the risk of contracting this type of infection:

1. Age: The risk of getting a fungal nail infection increases with age. This is mostly due to poor circulation and more years of exposure to fungi.

2. Sex: Men are more likely to develop fungal nail infections than women.

3. Sweating heavily: If you sweat profusely, environment in your shoes can promote fungal growth, increasing the risk of infection.

4. Having a history of athlete’s foot: Athlete’s foot is also a fungal infection. If you’ve had it, you’re more likely to get a fungal nail infection.

5. Walking barefoot in damp public areas: Places like swimming pools, gyms, and shower rooms are often breeding grounds for fungi.

6. Climate: Living in a hot, humid climate can also increase the risk of a fungal nail infection.

7. Health: People with conditions like diabetes, circulation problems, a weakened immune system or psoriasis may have a higher risk of getting a fungal nail infection.

8. Injury: A recent injury to a nail or the skin around it also increases the chances of getting a fungal nail infection.

It’s essential to follow good hygiene practices like washing your feet daily and drying them thoroughly, especially between the toes, wearing clean socks, using antifungal sprays or powders if you’re prone to sweating, and not sharing towels and socks to minimize your risk.

Signs and Symptoms of Fungal nail infection

Fungal nail infection, also known as onychomycosis, can cause several noticeable symptoms. Here are some key signs to observe:

1. Discoloration of the nail: One of the first signs of a fungal nail infection is a change in color. The nail may turn white, black, yellow or green.

2. Thickening of the nail: As the infection progresses, the nail often becomes thicker. It may become difficult to trim with typical nail clippers.

3. Brittleness: Infected nails can become brittle or crumbly, making the nail break more easily than healthy nails.

4. Change in nail shape: The infection can distort the shape of the nail, which may curve or buckle.

5. Smell or odor: An unpleasant odor may be noticed from the infected nail.

6. Separation of the nail: In some cases, the nail might lift from the nail bed, which can be painful and result in the loss of the nail.

7. Scaling under the nail: Also called subungual hyperkeratosis, this condition can make layers of skin under the nail to build up.

8. White or yellow streaks on the side of the nail: Also known as lateral onychomycosis.

Keep in mind that these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, so it’s important to see a healthcare provider for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Diagnosis Fungal nail infection

Fungal nail infection, also known as onychomycosis or tinea unguium, is a common condition that begins as a white or yellow spot under the tip of your fingernail or toenail. As the fungal infection goes deeper, it can cause your nail to discolor, thicken, and crumble at the edge.

This infection can affect one or more nails but is usually not painful unless the disease becomes severe. Nail fungi prefer warm, dark, and moist environments, which is why more toenails than fingernails are affected.

Fungal nail infection is caused by various types of fungi, including dermatophytes, yeasts, and molds. People may pick up these types of fungi through direct contact with someone who has the infection or touching objects that have been in contact with them.

Symptoms often include thickened nail, whitish to yellow-brown discoloration, brittle, crumbly or ragged nail, distorted in shape, and may have a foul smell.

If left untreated, it can persist indefinitely. Treatment options may vary depending on the severity of the infection and can include antifungal drugs, surgery, and sometimes topical nail lacquers. Those with weakened immune systems or diabetes are at greater risk of developing fungal nail infections.

Treatment of Fungal nail infection

Fungal nail infection, also known as onychomycosis, is typically treated by antifungal medications, topical ointments, and sometimes surgery. Here’s a brief rundown:

1. Oral antifungal drugs: These are often the first choice of treatment because they clear the infection more quickly than do topical drugs. Options include terbinafine (Lamisil) and itraconazole (Sporanox). These medications help a new nail grow free of infection, gradually replacing the infected part.

2. Medicated nail polish: Your doctor might prescribe an antifungal nail polish called ciclopirox (Penlac). You may need to use this type of nail polish daily for almost a year.

3. Medicated nail cream: Your doctor may prescribe an antifungal cream, which you rub into your infected nails after soaking. These creams may work better if you first thin the nails.

4. Surgery: If your nail infection is severe or extremely painful, your doctor may suggest removing your nail. A new nail will usually grow in its place, although it will come in slowly and may take as long as a year to fully grow in.

5. Over-the-counter options: Some over-the-counter products also may help, but there’s little evidence to support these treatments. You might see improvement after using such a product for three months.

Meanwhile, maintaining good nail hygiene can help reduce reinfection. This includes keeping your nails short and cleaning regularly under nail tips, avoiding sharing socks and shoes, wearing ventilating shoes, and using antifungal powders for a continued period to prevent the fungus from returning.

Remember, it’s essential to have a conversation with your healthcare provider before beginning any treatment regimen. Specialist advice is crucial, as there may be side effects with oral medications. Furthermore, fungal nail infections can often resemble other conditions such as psoriasis or nail trauma, making an accurate diagnosis important. Treatment should always be tailored to the individual’s needs and the severity of the infection.

Medications commonly used for Fungal nail infection

Fungal nail infections are commonly treated with antifungal medications. These could be oral, topical, or even surgical, depending on the severity of the infection. Here are some commonly used medications:

1. Oral Antifungal Drugs: These drugs are typically the first line of treatment for fungal nail infections. They include Terbinafine (Lamisil), Fluconazole (Diflucan), and Itraconazole (Sporanox). They help a new nail grow free of infection, slowly replacing the infected part of your nail over time.

Ointments

2. Antifungal nail paint: Also known as medicated nail polish or lacquer, examples include Ciclopirox (Penlac). The user applies it to the infected nails and surrounding skin once a day.

3. Medicated nail cream: Your doctor may prescribe an antifungal cream, which you rub into your infected nails after soaking. These creams may work better if you first thin the nails.

4. Surgical or laser treatments: If the nail infection is severe or extremely painful, the doctor may suggest removing the nail. A new nail will usually grow in its place, although it will come in slowly and may take as long as a year to grow back completely.

Each of these medications has different instructions for usage, possible side effects, and contraindications. Always consult your doctor or a relevant healthcare provider before starting any of these treatments to ensure they are appropriate for your individual health situation.

Prevention of Fungal nail infection

Prevention of fungal nail infections involves several steps:

1. Keep nails clean and dry: The fungus thrives in warm, moist environments, so it’s important to keep your feet dry. Always dry your feet thoroughly after showers and avoid wearing socks or shoes that trap moisture.

2. Don’t share personal items: Avoid sharing shoes, socks, nail clippers or nail files as the fungus can be spread through these items.

3. Wear breathable footwear: Choose socks that wick away moisture. Avoid shoes made of synthetic material like vinyl or rubber.

4. Practice good foot hygiene: Wash your feet regularly, and trim your toenails straight across to keep them shorter than the end of your toes.

5. Use antifungal sprays or powders: Regular application can help keep a fungal infection from taking hold.

6. Don’t go barefoot in public places: Locker rooms, public pools, showers, and similar locations are often teeming with fungus, so it’s best to wear sandals or shower shoes in these places.

7. Disinfect regularly: If you get regular manicures or pedicures, choose a salon that uses sterilized manicure tools for each customer. You can also bring your own kit to be sure.

8. Keep your hands and feet dry and clean: This is crucial as fungus loves to live in warm, moist environments.

By following these steps, you could significantly reduce your chances of getting a fungal nail infection. It’s also essential to see a healthcare professional if you notice any abnormal changes to your nails, which could be a sign of a fungal nail infection.

FAQ’s about Fungal nail infection

1: What is a fungal nail infection?
A: A fungal nail infection, also known as onychomycosis or tinea unguium, occurs when a fungus that’s normally in your body overgrows in your fingernails or toenails. It can cause the affected nail to become thickened, brittle, misshapen, or discolored.

2: What causes a fungal nail infection?
A: Fungal nail infections are caused by various fungal organisms. The most common cause is a type of fungus called dermatophyte. Yeast and molds can also cause nail infections.

3: Is a fungal nail infection contagious?
A: Yes, fungal nail infections can be contagious. They can be spread person-to-person or through direct contact with objects that have been contaminated with the fungus such as towels, shoes, nail clippers, etc.

4: What are the symptoms of a fungal nail infection?
A: Symptoms may include a nail that is discolored (yellow, brown, or white), thickened, brittle, crumbly, distorted in shape, or separated from the nail bed.

5: How is a fungal nail infection diagnosed?
A: A doctor often can diagnose a fungal nail infection by looking at the nail and asking questions about your symptoms and past health. If it’s not clear that the infection is caused by a fungus, the doctor may take a sample of the nail to examine under a microscope or to culture in a lab.

6: What are the treatment options for a fungal nail infection?
A: Treatments can include antifungal creams, nail paints, or medications. In some cases, the nail may need to be removed. It can take several months to a year for the infection to resolve because the new nail needs to grow back completely clear.

7: How can I prevent a fungal nail infection?
A: To help prevent a fungal infection of the nail, it’s important to keep your nails short, clean, and dry. Avoid sharing nail clippers or shoes. Wear socks that wick away moisture. Choose a nail salon that uses sterilized manicure tools.

8: Are there any complications associated with fungal nail infections?
A: If left untreated, a fungal nail infection can lead to further complications, including severe cosmetic concerns, persistent fungal infections, and pain when walking or wearing shoes. It can also spread to other nails or skin, and in severe cases, it can cause problems with walking or other daily activities.

Useful links

Fungal nail infection, also known as onychomycosis, is a common condition often caused by a fungus that’s part of a group of fungi called dermatophytes. Here are some valuable scientific articles and journals specifically related to this condition:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24661991/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18617498/

Please note that access to some of these articles may require payment or a subscription to the specific journal. You may find abstracts or summaries of most of them freely available, which can still provide helpful information. Please consult with a healthcare professional for the most accurate information.

Complications of Fungal nail infection

Fungal nail infections, also known as Onychomycosis or Tinea Unguium, can lead to several complications, both physically and emotionally. The following points explain these in detail:

1. Pain and Discomfort: One of the primary complications from a fungal nail infection is discomfort and sometimes pain in the affected toe or finger. It can make everyday activities like walking or holding things difficult.

2. Physical Changes to the Nail: The infection can cause changes to the nail like thickening, discoloration (white, black, yellow or green), brittleness, distortion in shape, and even total loss of the nail.

3. Spread to Other Nails and Skin: If left untreated, the infection can spread to other nails and to the skin surrounding the nail, causing athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) or ringworm (tinea corporis).

4. Secondary Bacterial Infections: Fungal nail infection can potentially lead to a secondary bacterial infection, such as cellulitis.

5. Adverse Impact on Immune System: For people with weaker immune systems, like those suffering from diabetes, HIV/AIDS, or undergoing cancer treatments, fungal nail infections can lower the body’s defenses, making it more susceptible to other diseases.

6. Emotional Impact: Lastly, since fungal nail infection can distort the appearance of your nails, it can cause social, self-esteem and emotional issues. People can feel embarrassed or anxious due to the changes in their nail’s appearance.

Home remedies of Fungal nail infection

Fungal nail infections can be stubborn and hard to treat. But you could try some home remedies before visiting a doctor. Here are a few options:

1. Vinegar Soak: Vinegar contains acetic acid, which has antifungal properties. Soak your feet in a solution of equal parts vinegar and water for about 20 minutes daily. Carefully, pat your skin and nails dry. However, consider that this method does not have any scientific backing and might not work for severe infections.

2. Tea Tree Oil: Tea tree oil has antifungal properties that may inhibit the growth of fungi. Apply tea tree oil directly to the nail twice daily using a cotton swab.

3. Vicks VapoRub: Though it’s typically used for cough suppression, its ingredients such as camphor and eucalyptus oil may be effective in treating nail fungus. Apply it to the infected area once a day.

4. Garlic: Allicin, a compound present in garlic, has antifungal properties. Apply garlic oil on the infected nail or you can eat one or two crushed garlic cloves daily.

5. Oregano Oil: Oil of oregano has antifungal properties. Apply it to the nail twice daily with a cotton swab.

6. Baking Soda: Soaking an infected nail in warm water mixed with baking soda can help in the fungus fight.

7. Listerine: The antiseptic mouthwash Listerine contains ingredients such as eucalyptol and thymol that have antifungal properties. Soaking the affected foot several times a day has been suggested, but there is no clinical evidence for its effectiveness.

Remember, these remedies should be used consistently and persistently for the best results, but they may not work for everyone. Severe fungal nail infections definitely need to be seen by a doctor. Please consult with a healthcare professional before starting any home treatments.

Categorized in:

Infectious Diseases,

Last Update: December 30, 2023