Nail fungus also called “onychomycosis” is a common fungal infection typically affecting the toenails. It begins as a whitish or yellowish spot under the tip of the nails. This may be seen in fingernails as well as toenails and may affect one or more nails as well.
Prevention & Treatment To Reduce Toenail Fungus
As the infection spreads deeper under the nails, discoloration and thickening of the nails may occur. Additionally, they may also become brittle, ragged and even start crumbling at the edges. The fungus may also infect the areas in-between the toes and skin of feet giving rise to a condition termed as “Tinea pedis”, commonly known as athlete’s foot.
The main symptom of the infection is the altered appearance of the nails. A mild infection often doesn’t require any treatment however sometimes it may cause pain and develop a slight foul order. If it is painful, over-the-counter medications along with a self-care schedule may help in effectively treating the infection.
Nevertheless, if the self-care tips and OTC medications are not helping and the nails are becoming increasingly deformed or discolored, it is advised to seek professional help as soon as possible, especially in the case of diabetic patients.
Diagnosis, Treatment And Prevention
There are other infections that may also look similar to nail fungi such as “psoriasis”, bacterial infections or yeast infections. During the examination, the doctor may collect nail samples of the patients for lab test to correctly identify the type of infection and the type of fungus to help decide on the treatment.
The treatment will depend on the severity and the type of fungal infection and may include oral medicated nail polish, cream, anti-fungal drugs, or even nail removal in certain cases. It is important to keep in mind that even after successful treatment, there is always the possibility that the infection may reoccur.
Oral antifungal drugs as compared to topical treatment are observed to clear the infection faster which is why they are usually the first thing doctors prescribe in nail infection patients. Terbinafine and itraconazole are two such oral antifungal drugs commonly used or treated by doctors. Usage of these drugs helps in the growth of the new infection-free nail, replacing the infected nail. With this treatment, a patient usually takes 4-5 months to completely recover from the infection.
Doctors usually do not suggest this treatment to patients suffering from liver or heart disease owing to its possible side effects. This treatment is seen to be less effective in older adults above 60 years of age. An antifungal cream is another treatment option wherein patients are instructed to thin their infected nails first in order to get better and faster results followed by soaking before the cream is applied. Thinning can be done easily with the help of a file or any similar external tools.
Soaking nails prior to filing may further help with the process. The doctor may also sometimes prescribe medicated nail polish called Ciclopirox to treat nail infections.
The treatment usually involves the application of the nail polish on the infected nails along with surrounding skin once a day, daily for a given period of time while wiping the layers off every week for a fresh application. In case the nail infection is very severe and is not responding to medicines, the doctor may suggest permanent surgical removal of the nail as the only way of treatment.
Sometimes nails may be temporarily removed for direct application of antifungal cream on the affected area to help faster and better treatment of the infection.
Following good hygiene and cultivating good habits can help prevent fungal infections and reinfections. Wearing footwear in damp communal areas such as gyms, shower rooms, locker rooms, pool areas etc. Is always a very good practice. It is also advised to use footwear made of breathable materials in addition to wearing sweat-absorbing socks.
One should avoid wearing old shoes unless treated with antifungal powder. Discontinuing the use of nail paints and artificial nails may greatly help people with recurring nail infections. Regular washing of hands, feet, and trimming of nails is a very important habit in preventing infections of nails and skin. Further, moisturizing the nails after wash and disinfecting the tools used for trimming are good practices to be followed by everyone prone to such infections.
Fungal nail infections are more common among older adults but can develop in people at any age. Usually, it does not spread from one person to another. The majority of the fungal nail infections are found to be caused by a common fungus named “Dermatophyte”. Diabetic patients and older people due to the reduced blood flow and more often than not weakened immune systems are at greater risk to develop these infections.
Sweating too much, having continuous exposure to fungi, walking barefoot in damp areas, nail injuries etc. are some of the factors which may indirectly lead to catching toenail infections among people.
If the nail infection is not very severe and painful, one can opt for self-treating it using over-the-counter antifungal creams and ointments. It is best to start with trimming and thinning the nails which will not only help with reducing the pressure on the nails thereby reducing pain but will also help with deeper penetration of medicated creams.