Are discolored or brittle nails making you pause before you try on a pair of open-toed sandals? A fungal nail infection might be responsible for making your toes look unappealing. Medically this condition is known as onychomycosis and your big toenails are most likely to be affected. Infection generally develops on the side or front of the nail and less commonly from the nail root.1 Let’s take a look at some signs which could indicate that you have a fungal nail infection.
What Are The Signs Of A Fungal Toenail Infection?
A fungal infection can discolor, distort, and thicken your nails as well as make them brittle. Now, there are four main kinds of fungal toenail infections and each kind can look slightly different.
1. Distal Subungual Onychomycosis
This infection usually begins at the end of the nail bed and causes your nail to turn white or yellow. You may find that nail fragments and bits of skin (debris) start to accumulate under the nail. As the condition worsens, your nail may separate from the skin and split or crumble. You may also find it uncomfortable to wear shoes when your nails thicken as debris builds up under it. This is the most common type of fungal nail infection.
2. White Superficial Onychomycosis
This infection begins with the development of white spots on the surface of your nail and is found in the top layer of your nail. Over time, the whole nail surface gets covered with a chalky, crumbly powder. The nail doesn’t separate from the skin or thicken during this condition.
3. Candida Onychomycosis Or Yeast Infection Of The Nail
This is a yeast infection that can affect all your toenails simultaneously. It can discolor your nails, making them green, white or brownish. They will also be oddly shaped. Your nails may get thicker and the skin next to it may also show signs of infection – it might feel tender or warm, become red, and swell up. Unlike other fungal nail infections, this kind of infection may cause pain. However, this kind of infection is not very common and is generally seen in fingernails rather than toenails.
4. Proximal Subungual Onychomycosis
This kind of infection affects the base of your nail. The skin there can thicken and separate from your nail. It can cause your nail base to look white and your nail opaque. This infection is usually seen in people with HIV.2
Other conditions like viral warts, lichen planus, psoriasis, and certain tumors can also cause symptoms similar to fungal nail infections.3 Your doctor will be able to confirm whether you have a fungal infection either by looking at nail scrapings under a microscope or by testing samples.
What Causes Toenail Fungus?
Microscopic organisms known as fungi cause fungal nail infections. Fungi can live without causing any harm on your skin but sometimes they multiply excessively and cause infections. And they thrive in warm moist areas like your feet or the space beneath your nails. Fungi can infect your nail by entering through a crack in your nail, a cut in the skin around it, or a separation between your toe and your nail.4 Three kinds of fungi can cause toenail infections:
- Dermatophytes are a kind of fungus which grows on the nails, hair, and skin. They don’t, however, affect deeper tissues. They are responsible for most fungal infections in your toenails. Trichophyton rubrum, a common dermatophyte which causes athlete’s foot (a fungal skin infection of the foot which can spread to your nails), is usually responsible. You can get infected by coming in contact with the floor in public showers or objects like nail clippers which may be contaminated by fungi.
- Yeasts are another kind of fungus normally present on your body. But immune system problems, illnesses, or the use of antibiotics or birth control pills may lead to an overgrowth of these and cause an infection.
- Molds are a kind of fungus commonly found in soil and can cause toenail infections.5
Factors That Can Increase Your Risk Of A Toenail Infection
Here are a few things that could increase your risk of a fungal toenail infection:
- Your feet are not clean and dry.
- You walk barefoot in places like gyms, locker rooms, or communal showers, where you’re likely to be exposed to infections.
- You wear shoes that make your feet sweaty.
- You share towels, shoes, nail clippers, or socks with other people who might have an infection.
- You have a weakened immune system.
- You have athlete’s foot.
- You have health issues like such as psoriasis, diabetes, or peripheral arterial disease.6
What Can You Do About A Toenail Fungal Infection?
Your doctor may prescribe oral or topical antifungal medicines to treat this condition. In some cases, you will need to remove the nail.
You can also try natural remedies like tea tree oil or snake root extract.7 8 You can apply these on the affected part.
Do note that if your immune system has been weakened or you have diabetes, it’s important to see your doctor if you get a fungal nail infection.9
|↑1||Onychomycosis (Toenail Fungus). U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑2||Types of Fungal Nail Infection. University of Michigan.|
|↑3||Westerberg, Dyanne P., and Michael J. Voyack. “Onychomycosis: Current trends in diagnosis and treatment.” American family physician 88, no. 11 (2013).|
|↑4||Nail Fungus. American Academy of Dermatology.|
|↑5||Fungal Nail Infections. University of Michigan.|
|↑6||Fungal nail infection. National Health Service.|
|↑7||Buck, David S. “Comparison of Two Topical Preparations for the Treatment of Onyehornycosis: Melaleuca altemiﬁlia (Tea Tree) Oil and Clotrimazole.” The Journal of family practice 38, no. 6 (1994).|
|↑8||Romero-Cerecero, Ofelia, Alejandro Zamilpa, Jesús Enrique Jiménez-Ferrer, Gabriela Rojas-Bribiesca, Rubén Román-Ramos, and Jaime Tortoriello. “Double-blind clinical trial for evaluating the effectiveness and tolerability of Ageratina pichinchensis extract on patients with mild to moderate onychomycosis. A comparative study with ciclopirox.” Planta medica 74, no. 12 (2008): 1430-1435.|
|↑9||Fungal Nail Infections. University of Michigan.|