Why is my toenail yellow, thick, and crumbly? Fungal nail infections are one of the most common nail problems, accounting for nearly 50% of nail related concerns…
What is nail fungus, and how did I get it?
Fungal nail infections or onychomycosis is a very common infection of the nails. The disease is caused by fungi called dermatophytes which feed off of keratin, which is what skin, nail, and hair is composed of. Dermatophytes can be picked up by contacting an infected person or animal, or indirectly by contacting objects that came into contact with the fungi. Common areas to pick up dermatophytes include public showers, or swimming pools, and locker rooms which are high traffic areas that also have high humidity.
How do I avoid fungi?
Dermatophytes that can cause nail infection are everywhere, so complete avoidance is next to impossible. Thankfully, in healthy individuals, the contact does not automatically lead to infection. The immune system identifies and quickly eradicates most fungi before an infection can occur. While it’s impossible to avoid fungi altogether, you can minimize the chance of exposure by staying away from two of the significant sources of fungi proliferation: humidity, and public places where bare feet contact the floor. High-risk areas include:
- Public swimming pools, especially indoor pools
- Locker rooms, or spas
- Home of somebody who has a fungal infection
How do I know if I have a fungal nail infection?
Fungal nail infection is a progressive condition; it worsens over time if left untreated. Moderate to severe nail infections are easy to spot, but the goal is to identify this condition and seek treatment in its early stages while it is easy to treat.
Some key symptoms to watch for include:
- Discoloration of the affected nail (contrast with a healthy nail)
- Brittleness of the nails
- Yellow color in contrast to unaffected nails
- Mild thickening of the nails
As infection progress, the symptoms become apparent and contrast sharply to healthy nail. Pain and discomfort due to thickening of the nails may also occur. The nail infection may also spread to the surrounding skin or other nails.
Ideally, you want to visit a doctor and seek treatment before the nails become severely infected. Generally, nail infections do not clear without treatment. Seek treatment earlier rather than later. Treatment is especially important for the elderly, people who have diabetes, or have a weakened immune system as they are more susceptible than most people.