Nail Fungus, a Common Problem

Nail fungus is one of the most common nail-related problems that dermatologists see. It is also a condition which is often inappropriately handled, and one where public education is sorely lacking.

How do I know if I have nail fungus?

It’s best to see a physician to have your nails checked if you suspect that something is wrong with your nails. Symptoms that are common to early stage nail fungus, such as discoloration and subtle brittleness are common in other nail problems as well so it’s important that you get a proper diagnosis. Don’t assume and try to fix it yourself as it could be a different problem altogether.


Why did I get Nail Fungus?

Nail fungus is very common even though it’s not as common of a topic as acne, or other visible conditions, because it’s often out of sight. Fungi are everywhere, and the ones that cause nail infections have adapted to live under human nails. The risk of fungal nail infections increase with age due to weakening of the immune system. Also at higher risk are patients with psoriasis or diabetes.


Can I ignore nail fungus until it goes away?

Nail fungus will rarely, if ever, go away on its own. The nail is an area that has little blood circulation, and so the immune system is limited in its ability to control the infection. While nail fungus rarely becomes a serious medical condition (unless you have diabetes or other immune system suppressing conditions), it is a progressive condition, and is best treated early. Nail fungus can and should be treated properly with the help of your doctor.


Are there any reputable sites or internet resources that can help me with nail fungus?

Nailfungus.ca is a comprehensive education portal and patient guide for nail fungus. The available prescription treatments are for Canadians, but the other advice applies universally.


Is nail fungus easy to treat?

In some cases, if the nail is treated effectively at an early stage, the fungus will clear quickly. In most cases, however, it takes some time to clear nail fungus. Despite the many false claims out on the Internet, there is no instant cure to nail fungus. Even after the fungus has cleared, the appearance of the nail will remain altered until it grows out (which can take up to 18 months for toenails) and is clipped.


What about Alternative Therapies?

As physicians, we promote evidence based medicine. We’ve talked about alternative treatments in the past, and our position is that there is nothing unique or fundamentally different about alternative or complementary medicine. All treatments should be tested, and judged based on merit, and the alternative medicines that do show merit in controlled studies become, well, medicine.


How do I prevent nail fungus in the future?

Unfortunately there is no bulletproof prevention to nail fungus as fungi are everywhere. Some people are also more susceptible than others to fungal nail infections. Here are some tips to help reduce the chance of you getting another infection:

  • Keep your nails short
  • Clean your nails, and especially your toenails every day
  • Wear sandals in areas that commonly harbor fungi like public locker rooms
  • Don’t share nail clippers with others
  • Keep your feet dry

Dermatologist Dr. Katie Beleznay talks about the importance of consulting your doctor about treatments: