Fungal Nail Infections

What is a fungal nail infection?

Fungal nail infection is ringworm of the nails. It is caused by fungi found in warm, damp places such as the bathrooms. It is increasingly common with age and is frequently ignored as it is often without symptoms.

Conditions like diabetes and HIV make it more likely to get fungal nail infections, and the infection may be more serious in these conditions.

Toenail infections are more common than infections in fingernails, but the latter are usually more visible and thus bothersome.

What are the features?

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Fungal nail infections often appear whitish or yellowish-black usually starting from the sides of the nails before spreading throughout. The nail may become thick and raised up from the finger or toe or sometimes lifts off completely. The skin around your nail may be inflamed and turn red.

In severe infections, the nails may appear crumbly, and can sometimes spread to the sides and sole of the foot making walking difficult.

What treatments work?

There are tablets called antifungals that can be taken for fungal nail infections. These are gotten only by the doctor’s prescription. They are usually taken for several weeks or months depending on the particular drug and the severity of the infection.

The effects of the tablets are not noticed immediately on the infected nails. The fungus only dies so that the nails can grow back normally (and this takes months).

In mild infections, antifungal lotions or creams or varnishes can be applied on the nails. They are not as effective as tablets but they have fewer side effects such as itching and burning around the nail. Most of them can be bought without a prescription but the stronger concentrations may need a prescription. You’ll probably need to use the treatment for at least several weeks, and sometimes for much longer.

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Prevention

Since fungal nail infections may be difficult to go away, it is always better to protect yourself against them. Things you can do to reduce your chances of getting them include:

  • Keeping your hands and feet clean and dry.
  • Airing your feet as often as possible
  • Wearing well-fitting shoes which allow some air to get to your feet. Leather or canvass shoes are preferred to plastic or rubber ones.
  • Avoiding sharing shoes or towels with other people.
  • Changing your socks regularly
  • Avoiding walking barefoot in public areas.

What will happen to me?

It takes months for the nails to grow back fully, and if they have come off, they won’t grow back until after the infection has gone away. It is common for fungal nail infections to come back. You may decide not to have the nail infection treated. It probably won’t affect your health, although it’s possible the infection will get worse.