Toenail fungus, known by physicians as
Onychomycosis, affects about half of Americans by the age of 70. It is
relatively rare in children, but the incidence increases with age. Fungus
infections occur when microscopic fungi gain entry through a small trauma
in the nail, then grow and spread in the warm, moist environment inside
the patientís socks and shoes.
Symptoms of toenail fungus, which can be
caused by several types of fungi, include swelling, yellowing, thickening
or crumbling of the nail, streaks or spots down the side of the nail, and
even complete loss of the nail. Toenail color can vary from brown or
yellow to white with this condition.
Fungal infections can affect the
fingernails as well as the toenails, but toenail fungus is more difficult
to treat because toenails grow more slowly. It occurs most often on the
big or small toe, but might occur on any toe.
Toenail fungus can be picked up in damp
areas such as public gyms, shower stalls or swimming pools, and can be
passed among family members. Athletes and people who wear tight-fitting
shoes or tight hosiery that cause trauma to the toes or keep the feet from
drying out are at higher risk. The condition can also spread from one toe
to another, or to other parts of the body.
Other risk factors include abnormal PH
level of the skin, not drying off the feet thoroughly after bathing or
exercise, and a compromised immune system in someone who has been exposed
to a fungus. Diabetics have an increased risk of contracting a toenail
fungus because their immune system is compromised. They should have their
nails cut and debrided by a podiatrist.
Treatment and Prevention
Because it is difficult to treat or
eradicate toenail fungus, it is a good idea to try to prevent it. It helps
to wear protective shoes or sandals in public showers, pool areas and
gyms, and to avoid borrowing someone elseís shoes or sharing socks or
towels with someone who has toenail fungus. An orthotic device can be used
to add cushioning and/or control over-pronation, support the longitudinal
arch, and reduce stress on the lower leg muscles.
Wash your feet regularly, and dry them
thoroughly when they get wet. Wearing nail polish on the toes is not
advised because it can seal in fungus and allow it to grow. Keep toenails
trimmed, and be sure to disinfect any pedicure tools before using them.
If you do develop toenail fungus, see your foot doctor. The doctor might
remove as much of the nail as possible by trimming, filing or dissolving
it. Medicated nail polish might be prescribed for a localized infection,
but a serious infection will likely be treated with a prescription oral
antifungal medication. These medications can have side effects, so be sure
to work closely with your doctor on your treatment plan. Only in severe
cases will surgical removal of the nail be recommended.
If you suspect that you have toenail
fungus, see your foot doctor.
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