Nail Fungus Explained

Nail Fungus Explained

Nail fungus, medically known as onychomycosis, is a common condition caused by fungal infection of the nails. While it may initially seem minor, untreated nail fungus can lead to several complications. Addressing nail fungus promptly is essential to prevent its spread, alleviate discomfort, and restore the nails’ appearance and health. Treatment options range from over-the-counter antifungal medications to prescription oral or topical treatments, depending on the severity of the infection. Medical procedures such as nail removal or laser therapy may sometimes be necessary.

What is a Fungal Nail Infection? 

A fungal nail infection, known medically as onychomycosis, is a prevalent condition resulting from the excessive growth of fungi in, under, or around the nail. This ailment can impact approximately 14% of the general population. Usually, toenails are more vulnerable to infection than fingernails, but both can be affected. While most fungal nail infections are not severe, some individuals may feel discomfort or be concerned about the appearance of their nails. If you suspect you have a fungal nail infection, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan. 

What Causes a Nail Fungus? 

Dermatophytes, a fungal organism, primarily cause nail fungus. In addition to dermatophytes, other fungi, such as yeast and molds, can also contribute to nail fungal infections. These fungi thrive in warm, moist environments, making nails, particularly toenails, susceptible to infections. Several factors can trigger a nail fungus, including moist and warm conditions, inadequate foot hygiene, nail injuries, weakened immune system, age, poor circulation, family history, skin conditions, and more. Addressing these risk factors and maintaining proper foot hygiene to prevent nail fungus is crucial

Symptoms of a Fungal Nail Infection 

Symptoms of a fungal nail infection can differ based on the type and seriousness of the infection. Typical signs include discoloration, thickening, brittleness, distortion, lifting, odor, pain, discomfort, and difficulty walking. Understanding that fungal nail infections can persist and deteriorate if not addressed is crucial. Moreover, these infections can spread to other nails or the surrounding skin if not managed correctly. Early treatment can prevent complications and support overall nail health. 

1. Discoloration of the Nail Bed 

The nail may exhibit a yellow, brown, white, green, or black discoloration, which frequently serves as an initial indicator of a fungal infection.

2. Thickening and Distortion of the Nail 

The affected nail may thicken beyond its normal state as the infection advances. Trimming the nail may become challenging due to its increased thickness. Furthermore, the nail’s shape may undergo alterations, leading to distortions or irregularities, resulting in a curved or uneven nail surface. 

3. Nail Pain or Discomfort 

As the infection advances, the nail bed and the skin around it might become sensitive or painful, particularly when pressure is exerted. 

4. Brittle or Crumbly Nails 

Infected nails are commonly fragile and susceptible to crumbling or breaking. The impacted nail might have a rough or uneven texture. With the fungal infection progressing, the nail can change color, thicken, and crumble at the edges. 

Toenail Fungus vs Fingernail Fungus 

Toenail fungus and fingernail fungus, both fungal nail infections, have similar causes, symptoms, and treatments. Although there are differences, these infections’ root causes and treatment approaches are primarily alike. Both infections need timely and suitable treatment to avoid complications and maintain nail health. Both toenail fungus and fingernail fungus are common fungal infections that the same types of fungi can cause. Remember, if you suspect you have a fungal nail infection, it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan. Taking care of your nails and seeking timely treatment can help restore the health and appearance of your nails. 

Toenail Fungus 

Toenail fungus is more prevalent than fingernail fungus, primarily attributed to the warm and moist environment created by prolonged shoe wear and the heightened susceptibility to minor injuries or trauma on the toes. Symptoms of toenail fungus may manifest as discoloration, thickening, brittleness, distortion, lifting, odor, or discomfort. If left untreated, toenail fungus can persist and worsen over time, potentially spreading to neighboring toenails or the surrounding skin. Treatment options for toenail fungus encompass topical and oral antifungal medications alongside surgical procedures to excise the affected nail when necessary. 

Fingernail Fungus 

While less prevalent than toenail fungus, fingernail fungus can still manifest with comparable symptoms and difficulties. Indications of fingernail fungus encompass discoloration, thickening, brittleness, distortion, lifting, odor, and discomfort. Treatment modalities for fingernail fungus mirror those employed for toenail fungus and may involve topical or oral antifungal medications and surgical procedures. Furthermore, maintaining proper hand hygiene and mitigating factors conducive to fungal proliferation, such as ensuring cleanliness and dryness of the hands and nails, can aid in minimizing the likelihood of fingernail fungus development.

Treatment Options for a Nail Fungus 

When it comes to treating nail fungus, several options are available. Treatment options for nail fungus, whether affecting the toenails or fingernails, vary depending on the severity of the infection, the type of fungus involved, and individual factors such as overall health and preferences. Regardless of the chosen treatment method, adherence to the prescribed regimen is crucial for optimal results. Moreover, maintaining good foot and hand hygiene, including keeping nails clean and trimmed, wearing breathable footwear, and refraining from sharing nail care tools, can aid in preventing the recurrence of nail fungus. If a fungal nail infection is suspected, seeking guidance from a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment plan is recommended. 

Oral Antifungal Medication 

Due to their superior efficacy, oral antifungal medications are often favored over topical treatments for severe or persistent nail fungus cases. These medications are taken orally and work systematically to address the fungal infection. Terbinafine (Lamisil) and itraconazole (Sporanox) are prevalent oral antifungal choices for managing nail fungus. Taking these medications orally can combat the fungal infection from within, providing a more comprehensive approach to treatment. However, it’s important to note that oral antifungals have potential side effects and require monitoring by a healthcare professional. 

Topical Antifungal Medication 

Over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal nail creams, ointments, or nail lacquers, which are paint-on treatments, can effectively treat mild to moderate cases of nail fungus. These topical medications are directly administered to the affected nails and surrounding skin. It is important to note that visible improvement may take several months, with success rates varying among individuals. If you are experiencing persistent or worsening symptoms of nail fungus, it is essential to consult a healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment. 

Microwave Immunotherapy 

Small bursts of microwave energy can enhance the immune response and activate the body’s innate capability to combat infections. This energy is administered precisely to the verruca-affected area through a handheld probe, ensuring targeted delivery. By focusing on a specific depth, the surrounding tissue remains unharmed. The microwaves interact with water molecules in the skin, generating heat that triggers an immune reaction, effectively eliminating the infected cells. As a result, the body’s immune system becomes more vigilant and responsive, better equipped to fight off the infection. 

Laser Therapy 

Laser therapy for nail fungus, or laser fungal therapy, represents a modern method for addressing fungal nail infections. This innovative approach utilizes a laser device to specifically target and eliminate the fungal organisms responsible for the infection while safeguarding the surrounding tissue from harm. Laser therapy for nail fungus has gained popularity due to its effectiveness in treating stubborn fungal infections that may not respond well to traditional treatments like antifungal medications or topical solutions. The laser emits a focused beam of light that

penetrates the nail and targets the fungus without causing any pain or discomfort to the patient. One of the key advantages of laser therapy is its minimal side effects and quick recovery time. 

Partial or Complete Surgical Removal of the Nail 

When severe nail fungus does not respond to other treatments, surgical removal of the affected nail may be necessary. This method allows for directly applying antifungal drugs to the nail bed, which could speed up the recovery process. Surgical excision of the affected nail is a last resort option for severe nail fungus cases that have not responded to other treatments. Healthcare providers can directly apply antifungal medications to the nail bed by removing the affected nail. This targeted treatment may accelerate the healing process and prevent the fungus from spreading further. 

Proper Foot Hygiene 

Maintaining proper foot hygiene is crucial in preventing and managing nail fungus, known as onychomycosis. To minimize the risk of nail fungus, it is advisable to adhere to certain practices: ensure cleanliness and dryness of the feet, opt for breathable footwear, regularly change socks and shoes, trim nails correctly, refrain from walking barefoot in public areas, shield your feet in communal spaces, establish good foot care routines, avoid sharing personal items, seek timely treatment, and more. Integrating these foot hygiene habits into your daily regimen can mitigate the likelihood of contracting nail fungus and enhance overall foot wellness. Should concerns about nail fungus arise or if you require foot care guidance, consulting a healthcare professional is recommended for tailored advice and treatment options. Remember, taking care of your feet is essential to your overall health and well-being. So, treat your feet kindly, and they will thank you by keeping you on the move comfortably! 

Antifungal Nail Polish 

Specialized antifungal nail polish is created explicitly with antifungal components to prevent or combat fungal nail infections (onychomycosis). If you suspect a fungal nail infection, using specialized antifungal nail polish can be a proactive step in managing the issue. By applying this nail polish regularly, you can help prevent the spread of the infection and promote the health of your nails. Usually, it includes antifungal agents like ciclopirox or amorolfine, which hinder fungal growth and support nail health. This nail polish is a practical and efficient for addressing fungal nail infections. 

When Should I See a Podiatrist for a Fungal Infection? 

Seeking advice from a podiatrist or a foot and ankle health specialist is wise when experiencing symptoms that suggest a fungal infection. These symptoms may include ongoing discomfort, a significant infection, worsening of the condition, underlying health issues, risk factors for complications, or concerns about nail health. If you suspect a fungal infection in your feet or nails or have doubts about your nail health, consulting a qualified podiatrist for assessment and treatment is recommended. This step allows you to receive expert advice, personalized treatment, and practical strategies to address the fungal infection and maintain foot health. By seeking professional help, you can alleviate any discomfort or issues you are experiencing and prevent potential complications that may arise from untreated fungal infections.

Nail fungus can linger for months or even years without proper treatment, becoming a chronic issue for many individuals. This persistent nature can lead to frustration and a diminished quality of life, impacting daily activities and social interactions. Promptly addressing nail fungus is essential to halt its advancement, ease discomfort, and revive the nails’ health and appearance. Understanding the importance of managing nail fungus goes beyond cosmetic aspects; it involves safeguarding the physical and emotional well-being of those affected by this common yet troublesome condition. Suppose you suspect a fungal infection on your feet or nails or have concerns about your nail health. In that case, it is recommended that you seek professional assessment and treatment from a qualified podiatrist. Consult with our healthcare professionals at Cutting Edge Foot and Ankle Clinic for proper guidance and evaluation. 

Contact Information: 

Cutting Edge Foot and Ankle Clinic 


Close up of foot fungus between a man's toes isolated on white
Close up of foot fungus between a man's toes isolated on white