Fungal infections can affect any body area. While fungi are normally present both on and inside of the body, as well as bacteria, infections can occur when a fungus overgrows. Nail fungus is a fungal infection affecting the fingernails and toenails. Fungal infections usually take time to develop. As a result, you might not notice the initial signs of a fingernail or toenail fungus infection. In rare cases, toenail fungus can cause cellulitis, an infection that can seriously harm your health. If you think you have nail fungus, contact our dermatologists in Gainesville with Dermatology Associates.
What Is Nail Fungus?
Nail fungus, including fingernail fungus and toenail fungus, is a common condition starting as a white or yellow spot or lesion under the tip of the fingernail or toenail. As the fungal infection penetrates the nail and tissues, the nail can become discolored, thickened, and crumbled at the edge of the nail. If you have a fungal infection on one or more nails and the condition is mild, you may not require treatment. However, if your nail fungus is painful and causes your nails to thicken and crumble, you may require treatment from a medical dermatologist. Some cosmetic dermatology treatments can help restore the nail to a better appearance. Certain self-care steps and medications can help treat nail fungus, though nail fungus can come back, even if the treatment is successful. When fungus infects the skin in the areas between the toes and the skin of the feet, it’s called athlete’s foot or tinea pedis.
What Does Nail Fungus Look Like?
You may have nail fungus if one or more of your fingernails or toenails are thickened; have white to yellow or brown discoloration; are brittle, crumbly, or ragged; have a distorted shape; are a dark color caused by the build-up of debris under your nails, or are smelling slightly foul. Other common signs of nail fungus include a chalky or clouded appearance in some spots of the nail with cracking or breaking in one or more spots of the nail. Fungal infections can affect a portion of the nail, the entire nail, or several nails at once. To learn more about the visible signs and symptoms of nail fungus, contact us.
What Causes Nail Fungus?
There are different possible nail fungus causes, including the overgrowth of fungi within, underneath, or on top of the nail. Fungi typically thrive in warm, moist environments, which can create an ideal situation for them to overpopulate the skin and nails. Nail infections can be caused by the same fungi that cause other conditions, such as jock itch, athlete’s foot, and ringworm. Naturally present fungi in or on the body can also cause nail infections.
If someone comes into contact with someone with a fungal infection, that person may contract it from the infected individuals. The toenails are more commonly affected by fungal infections than fingernails due to the toes being confined to shoes, which provides a warm, moist environment for fungi to flourish and thrive. Certain tools commonly used in nail salons can spread fungal infections from person to person if they are not sanitized properly.
Types Of Nail Fungus
There are four primary types of nail fungus infections: distal subungual infections, white superficial infections; proximal subungual infections, and candida infections. For additional information about nail fungus and your treatment options, contact us to schedule a consultation with our dermatologist specialists.
Distal Subungual Infection
A distal subungual infection, or distal subungual onychomycosis, is the most common type of fungal nail infection, which may affect the fingernails and the toenails. With this type of fungal infection, the outer edges of the nails have a jagged, brittle appearance, with white and yellow streaks reaching across the nail. Distal subungual infections invade the nail beds and the undersides of the nails.
White Superficial Infection
A white superficial infection of the nails, also called white superficial onychomycosis, usually affects the toenails. A certain type of fungus attacks the nail’s top layersl and creates well-defined white spots on the nail. Over time, these white patches cover the entire surface area of the nail. The nail then becomes rough, soft, and prone to easy crumbling.
Proximal Subungual Infection
Proximal subungual onychomycosis is a fungal nail infection where the infection begins from the undersurface of the proximal (situated nearer to the center of the body) nail fold and progresses distally (away from the body) and upward. These infections are uncommon but commonly occur in those with compromised immune systems.
Candida yeasts cause a Candida infection, which can invade the nails when they have sustained damage from a prior fungal infection or an injury. More commonly, however, Candida affects the fingernails. This fungal infection affects people who frequently soak their hands in water. Candida infections usually start at the cuticle, which becomes swollen, red, and tender to the touch.
Who Gets Fungal Infections?
Anyone can get fingernail and toenail fungus, but it often affects older adults, especially those over 60, as older people often have reduced blood flow, more years of exposure to fungi, and slower-growing nails. People with certain conditions or health issues may have a higher risk of developing nail fungi, including athlete’s foot, jock itch, diabetes, hyperhidrosis, a nail injury, psoriasis, or a weakened immune system.
Additionally, individuals who walk barefoot in damp communal areas, such as swimming pools, shower rooms, and gyms, have a high risk of developing a fungal infection. Individuals with diabetes often have reduced blood circulation and nerve supply in their feet and may be at a greater risk of developing a bacterial skin infection. Any minor nail injury can lead to a more serious complication. Contact your healthcare provider if you have diabetes or have developed a fungal infection.
Can Toenail Fungus Spread To Other Areas Of The Body?
If a fungus affects one of your toenails, the nails surrounding the affected nail are more likely to develop a fungal infection. In some individuals, the fungus can also spread to the surrounding skin. In some cases, the fungus can also spread to the genitals (jock itch), especially when the underwear is pulled onto the body over the infected toenails. If you have toenail fungus, be sure to put socks on before you put on your underwear. Though some types of fungal infections can be easy to spread, fungi that affect the toenails only stay in the region of the nail or surrounding nails.
How Is Toenail Fungus Diagnosed?
Because other types of infections can affect the nail and mimic symptoms of a fungal infection, the only way to confirm this diagnosis is to visit your doctor for an appointment. Your healthcare provider will look closely at the affected nails and ask questions to evaluate your symptoms. While many providers can easily identify fingernail and toenail fungus by looking at the nails. Tests may need to be performed to confirm the diagnosis of a fungal infection. Your dermatologist will likely take a small sample from underneath the affected nail or nails to analyze it and confirm a fungus diagnosis. If the initial test provides a negative result, scraping may be sent to a laboratory to see if the fungus grows out in a culture, which can help identify the fungus affecting your nails.
Nail Fungus Treatment
Nail fungus can be notoriously tricky to treat. Some people may require treatment for several months to effectively get rid of the fungus. Toenail fungus and fingernail function can come back, even after signs of the infection have disappeared following treatment. For those wondering how to get rid of toenail fungus or fingernail fungal infections, we recommend contacting our dermatology team to schedule an appointment for nail fungus treatment. Our dermatologists can explain your treatment options.
For those with a mild nail fungus that does not cause discomfort or isn’t bothersome, no treatment may be required. Nail fungus treatment may include an oral antifungal medication, such as terbinafine, itraconazole, and fluconazole, which all must be taken for several months, or longer. Topical medications, such as topical nail fungus medicine or a prescribed nail fungus cream, may also be recommended as viable treatment options. Oftentimes, topical antifungal medication and toenail fungus medication are most effective when paired with oral medications.
Other treatment options may include nail fungus laser treatment, during which your provider directs a high-powered laser beam and special lights at the fingernail or toenail to treat the fungus. These lasers are FDA-approved for a temporary increase of clear nails in nail fungus, though it may not necessarily cure the fungus. Nail fungus treatments over the counter are not typically recommended by doctors and dermatologists due to their ineffectiveness. The most effective form of treatment for you will largely depend on your symptoms and situation. Your dermatologist will consider several factors before recommending a treatment plan individualized to your needs.
How Do You Prevent Nail Fungus?
There is no way to guarantee you won’t contract nail fungus. However, the following can help you prevent an infection with fingernail fungus and toenail fungus.
- Avoid being barefoot in communal areas, including hotel rooms, showers, public shower rooms, locker rooms, and swimming pools.
- Wear shoes or flip-flops while in hotel rooms, showers, public showers, locker rooms, swimming pools, and other areas prone to develop and spread fungi.
- If you have a family member or member of your household with foot fungus or nail fungus, use a different shower or bath or wear flip-flops in the shower to avoid contracting it.
- Avoid trauma to the nails, as trauma due to accidental or aggressive clipping of the nails and cuticles can create hubs of entry for fungi to develop and spread.
- Clean your nail trimmer, cuticle nippers, and emery boards before using them.
- Avoid tearing or ripping your fingernails and toenails intentionally.
- If you have diabetes, understand and follow all nail care and foot-care recommendations as per your healthcare provider and dermatologist.
- Keep your hands and feet dry. Be sure to dry your hands and feet fully after you shower.
- Soak your fingers and toes in warm water before cutting your nails. Alternatively, you can cut your fingernails or toenails after you take a bath or shower.
- Trim your nails straight across without rounding the edges of the nail.
- Wear properly fitting shoes. Your shoes should not be too loose or tight around your toes.