Also called onychomycosis, fungal nails are infections underneath the surface of the nail, which may also penetrate the nail itself. Symptoms may include discoloration, brittleness, thickening, loosening or crumbling of the nail.
Fungal nail infections are often pain-free, so many people don't realise they have the condition and, therefore, don't seek treatment. But, if they are left untreated, they can present serious problems. Those who suffer chronic diseases, such as diabetes, circulatory problems, or immune-deficiency conditions, are especially prone to fungal nails. A history of Athlete's Foot or excessive perspiration can also predispose you towards nail infections.
Microscopic organisms (most commonly, a group of fungi called dermatophytes) are the cause of nail fungal infections. However, they can also be caused by some yeasts and moulds. Pathogens (bacteria and viruses) that cause nail fungus infections typically enter the skin through tiny cuts or small gaps between the nail and nail bed – the nail provides a suitably warm and moist environment for the fungi to thrive. This is often the case inside shoes.
A few simple precautions will help prevent fungal infections of the nail:
- Proper hygiene and regularly inspections of the feet and toes.
- Keeping feet clean and dry.
- Avoid going barefoot in public facilities.
- Clip nails straight across so that the nail does not extend beyond the tip of the toe.
- Avoid wearing excessively tight socks (which promote moisture).
- Avoid applying polish to nails suspected of infection.
If OTC (over-the-counter) liquid antifungal agents don’t work, a topical or oral medication may be needed (see your GP), and the diseased nail debris removed. This process is called debridement. In severe cases, surgical treatment may be required to permanently remove the infected nail. This will not only cure the infection but will prevent another deformed nail from forming.