Toenail fungus, scientifically known as Onychomycosis, can affect anyone, however it's more common in the elderly, affecting almost half of all Americans by the age of 70.
Fungus infections occur when microscopic fungi gain entry through a small trauma site in the nail. The infection grows and spreads by thriving in the warm, moist environment inside shoes and socks. While it occurs more frequently in the big and small toenails, it can infect any of the toenails. Fingernails can be affected by fungus as well, but it's harder to treat in toenails due the slow growth of the nails and the environment in which the toenails live.
There are several different types of fungus, all of which can cause nail discoloration ranging from shades of white and yellow to darker colors of gray and brown. Other symptoms include:
- Thickening or crumbling of the nail
- Streaks or spots on the nail
- Lifting of the nail
- Complete nail loss
Fungal infections can be picked up in damp areas such as public gyms, showers and pools. These infections can be passed among family members. Athletes and people with feet that sweat a lot are at high risk of toenail fungus. Also, people who wear tight-fitting shoes or hosiery, which can cause trauma to the toenails and keep the feet from drying out, are at high risk. Other factors that can increase your risk of getting toenail fungus include:
- Abnormal Ph levels of the skin
- Not thoroughly drying your feet off after bathing or exercise
- People with compromised immune systems, such as people with diabetes whose bodies also lack the ability to regulate heat.
Treatment and Prevention
It's very difficult to treat and eradicate toenail fungus. Therefore, it's best to try and prevent it.
- Protect your feet with shoes or sandals in public areas.
- Avoid borrowing someone else's shoes.
- Don't share socks or towels.
- Wash your feet regularly. Dry them thoroughly when they get wet.
- Don't wear nail polish on infected toenails since nail polish may seal in any fungi, allowing it to grow.
- Keep your toenails trimmed. Make sure to disinfect any pedicure tools before and after use.
Make sure you are fitting your shoes properly. Have your show fit checked regularly. Remember the size on the measuring device is only a reference. Mass-manufactured shoes are NOT all created equal. Refer to the Shoe Fitting Reference Guide for proper guidelines on how to best fit your shoes.
If you follow these precautions and stubborn toenail fungus infections persist, you must seek the counsel of a physician. It's best to see a podiatrist since a foot doctor will be well versed in this condition and best able to diagnose the condition, perform procedures for treatment, and prescribe medication. If this condition goes untreated and becomes serious, removal of the nail may be necessary.