Fungal infections can thrive in the skin, hair and nails. In the nail, the fungal infection is known as onychomycosis and the condition manifests in the form of a whitish or yellow discolouration under the nail. As the condition worsens and spreads, the discolouration becomes more intense and the nail becomes brittle and crumbly along the edges.
Infection can also cause the nail to separate from the nail bed; this is known as onycholysis and can cause pain and discomfort when walking. Other symptoms include nails that are dull and that have lost their sheen, a thickening of the nail, distortion in the shape of the nail as well as an unpleasant smell emanating from the affected fingertips and toes.
Onychomycosis is usually triggered by a fungal infection from a strain of fungi known as a dermatophyte. It can also be triggered by an underlying mould or yeast infection. There are several conditions under which mould and fungi thrive, including a damp and warm environment. The fungus usually invades the skin through cuts in the skin or breakages of the nail which leave the nail bed exposed. There are a number of high risk factors that can increase the likelihood of contracting a nail infection, these include constant exposure to damp and warm conditions, having a compromised immune system and sharing nail clippers or other manicure equipment.
Fungal infections are more prevalent in the toenails than in the fingernail because of two factors. The first is that your toenails are usually confined in shoes which can provide the dark, damp and warm conditions that cause bacteria and fungi to thrive. The second factor is that the blood circulation to your toes is not as good as the circulation to your fingers; therefore it is more difficult for the body to pick up traces of the infection in your toenails.
Taking preventive measures
Infections of the nails tend to reoccur and so it is important to take steps to protect yourself and keep your hands and feet fungus free. There are a number of habits you can pick up in order to ensure healthy nails; for instance you can make it a point to keep your hands and feet dry, you can do this by applying powder to your hands and feet.
If you suffer from sweaty feet, it is wise to change your socks regularly and to only wear cotton socks as these allow for better breathability. Your choice of footwear can also contribute to the situation as tight shoes are huge contributing factor to nail injuries which are a common precursor of infection. Injuries to the nail are also commonly caused by cutting the nail too short.
When visiting a public pool or shower it is wise to protect your feet by using slippers. You should also refrain from sharing manicure equipment, socks and shoes. If you get manicures or pedicures from a nail salon, you should ensure that all equipment is sterile. Smoking and diabetes are two other factors that can cause brittle nails. Also, those who suffer from athlete’s foot and psoriasis are predisposed to developing fungal infections.
Topical anti-fungal creams and ointments like Lamisil and Penlac can be applied directly to the affected area to minimise recurrence of symptoms. Oral medications can be effective in certain cases but as with topical ointments, the rate of recurrence of infection is pretty high; some say it is between twenty to fifty percent. More permanent solutions to the condition include the surgical removal of the afflicted nail.
An increasingly popular and innovative treatment option these days is laser therapy. This involves using intense light to eradicate the fungus. The infection will be killed immediately but it will take time for results to be visible as the infected nail needs to grow out and be replaced.
Laser treatment of fungal nail infections has a high success rate of eighty to ninety percent and a lack of side effects. It is proving to be an option definitely worth exploring if you suffer from onychomycosis.
The medically trained staff here at the Ryder Clinic in St Albans, Hertfordshire can offer you advice and recommend the most effective treatment for your fungal nail infection so please contact us.[Photo by OldGreySeaWolf]