Nail fungus is made up of tiny organisms called dermatophytes that infect the toenails of more than 35 million people in the United States. The nail provides a safe place for the fungus (onychomycosis) and protects it while it grows. That’s why it is so hard to reach and stop nail fungus. Symptoms include thickened toenails often brittle or crumbly, distorted in shape, loss of luster or shine, and usually discolored. Infected nails may also separate from the nail bed, a condition called onycholysis. Most people do not complain of pain in early stages, but the thickness of the nail can result in pressure to the toe, especially when wearing shoes.
What Causes Nail Fungus?
Fungus is considered an “opportunistic organism.” Therefore, given the opportunity it will infect.
Fungus usually develops on nails continually exposed to warm, moist environments, as inside a shoe. It is not the same as athlete’s foot, which primarily affects the skin of the feet, but at times the two may coexist and can be caused by the same fungal organisms.
Anything that damages a nail can make it easier for fungus to infect, such as an injury to the nail or ongoing shoe irritation. Fungus is common in athletes due to continuous trauma. People with medical conditions such as poor circulation or diabetes are also more likely to develop nail fungus.
Nail fungus can be difficult to treat, and repeated infections are common. Over-the-counter antifungal nail creams and ointments are available, but they aren’t very effective. Fortunately, other non-surgical treatments have been introduced during the last 10 years. To treat your nail fungus, our doctors may prescribe an oral antifungal medication after determining you actually have nail fungus. These medications help a new nail grow free of infection, slowly replacing the infected portion of your nail. This course of treatment may not be suited for people with certain medical conditions. In some severe cases your doctor may suggest removing your nail completely.