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What is a Fungal Nail?

Nobody wants to think much about foot fungus. And when we do consider it we usually imagine a case of athlete’s foot caught in a locker room.

But fungal infections can also affect your nails. And those visions of athlete’s foot? They aren’t too far off. A fungal nail infection has its own name—onychomycosis—and can affect both toenails and fingernails.

Nail fungus is a lot like athlete’s foot, it just affects nails instead of the skin on your feet. Fungal nails can be brittle, crumbly, discolored, thickened, ragged, smelly, and sometimes painful.

While fungal nails can affect hands and feet, these infections are more common on toenails. Many different types of fungus can cause a nail infection. Fungal nails are very common.

Symptoms of Fungal Nails

A fungal infection in a nail may first appear as a white or yellow spot under the nail. As the infection gets deeper, the spot spreads discoloring the whole nail. It may be white, yellow, green, or even black.

Darker colors are often from debris building up beneath the nail. The infection can spread to other nails and a severe case of nail fungus may be painful.

Other symptoms you may see include a distorted nail shape accompanied by thickness, crumbling, and brittleness. The nail may also curl or loosen from the nailbed.

Causes of Fungal Nails

Walking barefoot in areas including pool decks and locker rooms, where the conditions are warm, damp, and shared by others, is a common cause of fungal nails. Athlete’s foot can spread from the skin of the foot to the nails.

Sweaty feet or hands are also more likely to develop fungal nails. Fungus loves warmth and dampness, so socks, shoes, or gloves that trap heat and moisture make your nails more susceptible.

Fungal nails are more common on your feet simply because warm, moist conditions are more common on your feet.

Fungal nail infections are more likely if you have an injured nail, have a pedicure or manicure with improperly sanitized equipment, or have had a recent nail surgery.

These infections are also more common in older people, particularly men, as well as those who share living space with someone who has fungal nails.

Treatment for Fungal Nails

It can be tricky to successfully get rid of nail fungus. Treatments may be topical, oral, or surgical.

A topical treatment, brushed on the affected nail, is usually chosen for a mild infection. Oral medication to kill the fungus throughout your body is a common treatment, often taking three months of medication. Surgery to completely remove the nail may be done if other treatments fail.

No matter the treatment, nail fungus may come back.

To prevent fungal nails or keep them from recurring be sure to keep your nails clean and dry. Wash often, wear moisture-wicking socks, use anti-fungal powder on your feet and in your shoes, and don’t go barefoot.

Avoid sharing towels with someone who has fungal nails.

Fungal nails can lead to other health complications and infections. If you suspect you have a fungal infection, contact your doctor.


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