While it’s a pretty common condition, toenail fungus (otherwise known as onychomycosis) can still be embarrassing and unsightly. Even worse, it’s not just cosmetic. If left alone, it can eventually be very painful. While many people choose to live with thick, brittle, yellow toenails because they’re too embarrassed to visit a doctor, a skilled podiatrist can actually get this condition under control relatively quickly.
If you’re suffering from toenail fungus, you probably have questions. How did this happen? Where did I get it? Fungal nails don’t mean you’re a dirty person, and they don’t necessarily mean you’re hanging out in dirty environments.
Causes of Toenail Fungus
As a basic rule, toenail fungus is caused by microscopic fungi, but it can also be caused by yeast or mold. Anywhere you find a warm, damp environment like a locker room, swimming pool, or shower, you’ll find a breeding ground where these organisms (the same organisms that cause athlete’s foot, jock itch, ringworm, and other infections) live. And if you’re barefoot in these places as people often are, you can come into contact with the fungus and develop an infection.
Additional Risk Factors
- Diabetes or other health conditions that weaken your immune system
- Excessive foot sweat
- Wearing wet shoes and socks for an extended time
- Wearing shoes that are too small or that aren’t adequately ventilated
- Having athlete’s foot
- Having an injury to your toenail that exposes the area underneath
How to Prevent Toenail Fungus
Don’t be deceived; toenail fungus doesn’t mean you’re dirty. There are several times you’re at risk for getting toenail fungus, and most of them have nothing to do with staying clean. In most cases, keeping your feet dry and never being barefoot in a public place goes a very long way.
Easy Ways You Can Reduce Your Risk
- Cleaning your feet regularly. Soap and water after you’re active can go a long way towards preventing fungus from growing.
- Skipping toenail polish when you exercise. Fake toenails or toenail polish can trap moisture underneath, making it a perfect place for fungus to grow.
- Wearing shower shoes in public areas. Contact with fungus in a public area is the single biggest way to get toenail fungus, so make sure your feet stay covered.
- Keeping your toenails trimmed. If the edge of your toenail extends beyond the end of your toe, fungus can become trapped in that area and grow. Be sure to disinfect trimming tools before you use them.
- Using foot powder. Use a powder like cornstarch after you’re active to make sure your feet stay dry.
- Changing your shoes and socks. Immediately after you sweat, change into dry footwear. Fungus loves a damp environment.
- Wearing the right socks. Moisture-wicking socks are designed to keep sweat away from your foot better than traditional cotton socks.
Toenail fungus can be embarrassing because of the “dirty” connotation you might have in your mind, leading you to try to treat it on your own. While an over-the-counter cream may help with a mild case, there’s almost no home remedy that’s effective for worse cases.
Symptoms of Fungal Nails
Many cases of nail fungus are relatively mild—so mild people don’t even realize they have it. The first symptom may start as a small yellow spot under the nail which slowly becomes bigger and more painful. But if the spot spreads and walking becomes painful, it’s time to get your toe checked out by a podiatrist.
Signs You May Need a Podiatrist’s Help
- Brittle nails
- Cracking nails
- A yellow or white stripe developing on the nail
- Toenails becoming very thick or oddly-shaped
- A bad smell coming from the infected nail
- A toenail separating from the foot or even falling off
If you see these symptoms, it likely means you already have at least a mild case of nail fungus. The most important thing to remember is that quick action is key. Left alone, the fungal nail can cause permanent damage. A mild to severe case of nail fungus isn’t going away on its own, and treatment from a podiatrist is probably easier than you think.
Treatment Options for Fungal Nails
Fungal nails will not get better on their own, and over-the-counter remedies only work for the mildest of cases as the nail acts as a barrier between a topical treatment and the actual fungus. But options from a podiatrist are available.
The most common treatment is an antifungal medication taken orally as a pill. Usually lasting two to three months, this plan will handle most cases but isn’t recommended for people with liver problems as slight liver damage can be a side effect.
In recent years, laser treatment has emerged as an option—where a light that’s harmless to skin but deadly to fungus is applied to the infected area. This course of action is usually several appointments long, but is done in about the same timeframe as the medicine option.
While it’s a last resort for any condition here at Shenandoah Podiatry, surgery can sometimes be recommended for the worst of fungal infection cases. If the fungus doesn’t respond to other treatment options, the nail may have to be removed.
Shenandoah Podiatry Can Help Treat Your Fungal Nails
Don’t let embarrassment about how your nails look keep you from getting treatment from a podiatrist. At Shenandoah Podiatry, we’ve seen plenty of cases of nail fungus, and we know exactly how to treat them.
If you’re anxious about visiting a doctor, you should know that we’re not your ordinary practice. We make every effort to not only make our patients feel comfortable, but relaxed when they visit us.
When you’re ready to trust us with your foot care and wear sandals again, call our office at 540-904-1458 to set up an appointment. If you’d rather speak with us online, use our convenient contact form and we’ll be in touch as quickly as possible.