Infection of toe and finger nails by fungi is referred to as onychomycosis. It has an overall prevalence of 2% to 13% worldwide, but the prevalence is much higher in elderly people and those with weak immune system. Toenails are affected in 80% of all cases of nail infection.
Toenail fungus infection is a relatively common nasty condition that disfigures and sometimes even destroys the nail. Toenail fungus infection is caused by more than one type of fungus. Each infection shows up differently on your nails. Toenail fungus infection affects 2% to 18% of all people worldwide and 3% to 5% of people in the United States. The infection is relatively rare in children, affecting only about 1 out of every 200 people younger than 18 years. Toenail fungus can affect anyone but becomes more prevalent with aging. Individuals with certain diseases such as diabetes and diseases that affect limb circulation are more susceptible to fungal nail infections, along with people who have suppressed immune systems.
Toenail fungus infections take place in the nail bed underneath the toenail. This fact makes them difficult to treat. It is important to note that it is best to begin treatment as soon as an infection is detected. Leaving a fungal infection untreated will make it increasingly difficult to cure.
Toenail fungus infection can be contracted in warm, moist areas, which include public areas such as spas, swimming pools, locker rooms, or showers. The infection can easily spread from one toe to another or to other parts of the body. You can also get infected by the toenail fungus due to an irregular pH level of the skin, or not wiping off your feet after taking bath or exercise.
Symptoms of toenail fungus infection can vary, and are usually only noticeable once the fungus has established itself. Toenail fungus may first appear a as small patch under the nail. This discoloration may be white, yellow, or brown in color. If these symptoms are ignored after they first appear, the nail plate itself appear thickened and often look yellow or cloudy. The thickening and cloudiness are the result of the debris that builds up under the nail as the fungus continues to colonize the nail. Sometimes the nail begins to lift off of the nail bed. A disgusting cheesy smell that can’t be washed away in the shower may develop. Even worse, one untreated toe can infect other toes.
Although toenail fungus infection is not life threatening it makes you feel uncomfortable.
What Causes Nail Infection?
Over 90% of nail fungal infection cases are caused by the mould Trichophyton rubrum followed by Trichophyton mentagrophytes. There are other moulds that cause nail infection including yeasts such as Candida species.
What Are The Symptoms of Nail Infection?
Initial infection may go unnoticed but as the fungus damges the nail, the following symptoms may be observed:
- Discoloration of the nail plate or bed
- Nail thickening or deformity
- Crumbling of nails
- Pain, redness and swelling of the surrounding skin
- bad smell
How Does Infection Occur?
Nail fungal infection occurs when one gets into direct contact with an infected person or indirectly through sharing a shower, shoes, or nail clippers. One may also get infected by bathing in contaminated communal bathing facilities. Tiny cuts on the nails helps the fungus to get through.
Treatment of Nail Infection
Nail fungal infection may appear a minor cosmetic problem that does not merit treatment. However there are good reasons why one should seek treatment. So, if you suspected your nails could be infected, visit your doctor for advice.
Roberts DT, Taylor WD, Boyle J (2003). Guidelines for treatment of onychomycosis. British Journal of Dermatology; 148: 402–410.