Toenail fungus, or onychomycosis, is a condition that is not only embarrassing but can also be painful. It causes the nails on the toes to be discolored, thick, and brittle. The toenails may even have an odor or become separated from the nail bed. This condition can be difficult to treat, so seeing a podiatrist for treatment can have the best results.
Causes of Toenail Fungus
Toenail fungus is caused by microorganisms such as fungi but can also be caused by yeast or mold. The fungus can often be present in warm, damp environments such as a shower, locker room, or swimming pool area. If you are walking barefoot and come into contact with the fungus, you are likely to develop a toenail fungal infection. Toenail fungus can affect people of all ages, but it is more common in older adults.
Some other causes of toenail fungus are:
- Health conditions such as diabetes or a weakened immune system
- A history of athlete’s foot
- Excessive foot perspiration
- Injury to the nail bed
- Tight shoes that put pressure on the toes
- Others in the household with fungal infections
Common Symptoms of Toenail Fungus
Many cases of toenail fungus are mild and may not bother you, so you may not even realize you have a fungal infection. A toenail fungal infection can begin as a white or yellow spot under the toenail and present no other symptoms. As the condition worsens, it may become painful or uncomfortable when you walk in shoes, and you may notice a change in the appearance of the nail.
The following symptoms are common if you have a fungal nail infection:
- Nails that turn white or yellow or have yellow or white stripes
- Thickened or oddly-shaped toenails
- Scaling under the toenail
- Nails that are brittle or crumbling
- Nails that separate from the nail bed or fall off completely
- Foul odor from the infected toenail
Toenail Fungus Treatment Options
Toenail fungus can be treated by a variety of options. There are over-the-counter products as well as options that can be prescribed by a podiatrist. Common over-the-counter treatments are topical antifungal creams, lotions, and products that can be applied directly to the nail. For mild cases that are caught early, an at-home treatment may help but may not be most effective in the long term. If you have a condition such as diabetes, a problem with circulation, or a weakened immune system, a toenail fungal infection can lead to other serious complications.
If your toenail fungus does not respond to at-home treatment, consult with your podiatrist for an evaluation. Your podiatrist will examine your feet and nails to determine what treatment option will work best for your condition. A skin scraping may be done to find out what type of fungus is causing the infection. Factors such as the type of fungus causing the infection and the severity of your condition will determine what treatment will work for your specific needs. Often a combination of treatments may be used to clear up the infection. Toenail fungus could recur after treatment even if the treatment was successful.
Some common toenail fungus treatments include:
- Prescription topical creams
- Oral antifungal medication
- Topical solutions such as a medicated nail polish
- Laser treatment to remove the damaged area of the nail or skin
Toenail fungus can be difficult to treat, and many cases can take months to clear up. If the condition is severe, surgery may be an option to consider. Surgery to treat toenail fungus involves removing the toenail and applying antifungal medication directly to the nail bed. Another option is to have the nail removed permanently to prevent any recurrence.
If toenail fungus is left untreated, it can lead to other problems such as permanent nail loss or disfiguration. The fungus can spread to soft tissues surrounding the nail and can also spread to the soles of the feet, causing athlete’s foot to develop. Untreated toenail fungus can also cause a bacterial infection that can spread to other areas of the body and bloodstream.
How to Prevent Toenail Fungus
Here are some tips to help prevent infection or a recurrence of an infection:
- Wash your feet daily with soap.
- After showering, always carefully dry your feet, making sure to dry between your toes.
- Check your feet and toenails regularly. Look for signs of a toenail infection or any changes in your feet or nails.
- Keep your toenails trimmed. When cutting your nails, be sure to cut them straight across and short.
- Choose socks that can wick away moisture to keep your feet dry even if they sweat. Change out your socks if they become damp.
- Do not go barefoot in public. If you are in a wet public area such as a locker room, shower, or pool area, wear shower shoes or flip flops to protect your feet.
- Choose breathable styles of footwear that have mesh or ventilation and are made from a material such as canvas. Alternate footwear, so you are not wearing the same shoes every day. This gives the shoes time to breathe and dry out between wears.
- Do not share personal items with other people. Items such as socks, towels, nail clippers, or nail files should only be used by one individual.
- After using an item such as a nail clipper, disinfect it with rubbing alcohol.
- Use caution when getting a pedicure and choose a salon that disinfects the equipment used on your feet and has sanitary measures in place.
You Can Wear Sandals Again!
If you're ready to finally get rid of toenail fungus and have healthy, attractive nails again, reach out to our office to find out how we can help. To set up an appointment, call our office at 541-567-8750 or fill out our contact form.