What causes a nail fungus?
Fungal nail infections are a common nail condition that makes up about 50% of the nail conditions usually seen by podiatrists in their practices. Nail fungus can affect your hand and toenails, the treatment for both is usually the same.
The infecting agent can be found on your skin, on infected surfaces or from your environment i.e. soil or animals.
How does one get a fungal infection?
The most common way of getting a fungal nail infection is through indirect contact with another person. The most common cause of fungal infections occur between family members who sharing of baths and showers.
The use of public showers like gym change rooms and public swimming pools have also been identified as areas where you can get a fungal infection.
Fungal nail infections can also occur when you already have an existing fungal infection such as athletes foot, this will make it easier for the fungus to enter the toe nail.
Fungi love dark warm places to grow. Therefore keeping the foot in a closed shoe is the perfect place for the fungus to grow and live.
What does it do to my nails?
The fungus makes a protein that destroys the cells that make up skin and nails. Your nail will try and protect itself by thickening to produce more cells to replace the ones that were destroyed by the fungus.
People who have fungal nail infection will complain about the following:
- Thick nails
- Trouble with cutting nails
- Discolored nails that can be white, yellow, green, brown or black (it depends on the infecting agent)
The abnormal thickening may cause ingrown nails or pressure points in the shoe, which makes wearing shoes difficult.
How do I get rid of the nail fungus?
Visiting a skilled healthcare professional such as a podiatrist can make the process of treating a nail fungus easy and less frustrating, however it is important to remember it can take up to 6 months to kill a nail fungus.
Firstly the podiatrist will take a history of the condition. The nail shape, color and thickness will be examined. The podiatrist will take a sample of the nail to be sent for testing (there are other conditions that look similar to nail fungus).
Usually after taking nail clippings, the nail will be filed down and cut with specialized equipment.
Using topical anti-fungal agents are recommended, you should ask your podiatrist which they would recommend. Tablets can also be given, but these are usually left for severe cases.
It is important to sterilize clothing such as shoes and socks. Bedding should also be cleaned and as an extra precaution cleaning cupboards and drawers is also important. Sterilization is important because it prevents the infection from coming back.