Different bacteria and fungi are constantly present in our environments. When a person experiences an overgrowth of fungi on a certain part of the body, this is considered a fungal infection and it needs to be treated. The most common areas of the body affected by fungi are toenails and fingernails. In this article, you can learn more about this problem, its risk factors, and how it can be treated.
Onychomycosis and what causes it
When there occurs an overgrowth of fungi in the area around, on, or under the nail, a person experiences a fungal infection. A fungal nail infection or onychomycosis is a problem that is not immediately obvious in most cases. You may contract a fungal infection and start noticing the obvious changes in the color and texture of your nails only weeks later, as the first symptoms may be almost unnoticeable.
The factors that contribute to the spreading of fungi are the environment high in moisture and also warm temperature. In the context of toenails, it means that if you spend a long time wearing unbreathable shoes and your feet get moist, there is an increased risk of developing a fungal infection. Because feet are in an environment where fungi can grow easier, a toenail fungi infection is a lot more common compared to the fingernail one.
A fungal infection is easy to contract when you come in contact with a person who already has it. It is important that you don’t share any tools that you use on your nails with others. Those who like to go to nail salons for manicures or pedicures should always choose reputable places that properly disinfect their tools or bring their own tools to the salon.
What are the symptoms?
While in the beginning, the infection may be subtle, the symptoms become obvious over time. Those suffering from a fungal nail infection will notice the following:
- A change in the color of the nail (yellowing, white spots)
- An infected nail may develop a smell
- A nail may lift from the nail bed
- Thickening of the nail and its brittleness
It’s important to note that other health problems may be similar in their symptoms to those of fungi. To get a proper diagnosis, you should consult a medical professional who will look at the sample of your nail under a microscope.
Treatment of fungal nail infections
To make sure that you fully treat this problem, it is important to consult a doctor who will select the right treatment. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, they will be able to select the right type of treatment, its dosage, and duration. The most commonly prescribed antifungal tablets include the following:
These are only some of the popular drugs used for fungal nail infections and the correct choice should be made by a medical specialist based on which exact type of onychomycosis you have. For instance, Itraconazole is a drug that works against a broad spectrum of fungi, including Candida, while there are other drugs that are designed to be used against specific infections.
Fluconazole is an antifungal medication that has been developed four decades ago. It’s patent has expired in 2004 and 2005 making it much more affordable for the general population. It is used to treat a number of infections including blastomycosis candidiasis, cryptococcosis, coccidiodomycosis, dermatophytosis, histoplasmosis, and pityriasis versicolor. Fluconazole is a powerful antifungal drug, but it’s common side effects include rash, diarrhea, vomiting, and increased liver enzymes. Sometimes, it may even cause seizures, QT prolongation, and liver problems.
When it is compared to a newer antifungal medication called Itraconazole, Fluconazole offers a much lower protections against invasive mold infections (IMIs) and invasive fungal infections (IFIs), while offering a similar level of protection against candidiasis. Unfortunately, Itraconazole is also a lot more toxic than Fluconazole, so a lot more patents discontinue taking Itraconazole due to gastrointestinal intolerance or hepatotoxicity.
The use of oral tablets is often combined with the application of topical treatments on the nails. The treatment usually lasts for weeks until a healthy nail has fully replaced the infected one.
What are the risk factors?
There are a number of risk factors that make a person more prone to fungal nail infections. Your chances of getting a fungal nail infection are a lot higher if you do the:
- Swimming in public pools
- Having diabetes
- Older than 65
- Having poor blood circulation
- Injuring a nail or skin around it
- Having compromised immune system
- Wearing tight and unbreathable shoes
- Having fingers and toes in a moist environment for a long time
According to statistics, adults are more likely to have fungal nail infections compared to children. Because of the problems with circulation often experienced by older people, they are especially prone to fungal infections. There is an increased risk of contracting fungi when someone in the family suffers from recurring infections.
Common nail fungus types
Nail fungi is a broad term that encompasses several types of infections. The most common ones include the following:
- White superficial onychomycosis
This type of infection is fairly easy to treat and, in most cases, it affects toenails. This type of fungus has a superficial nature and affects the top layer on the nail where it causes the appearance of white spots. When untreated, the spots spread to the entire nail and cause a change in its texture making it brittle and rough.
- Distal subungual onychomycosis
This is the most common fungal nail infection that develops in toenails and fingernails. Usually, this type of infection spreads to the nail from the skin. The symptoms include white or yellow spots on the nail and also the ragged edge of the nail.
- Candida onychomycosis
As the name suggests, this type of onychomycosis is caused by Candida yeasts. More often it develops in fingernails, and people are likely to contract this infection after having an injury or previously infected nails. Also, those who often have their hands in water are at a higher risk of having this problem.
The common symptom of Candida onychomycosis is the swelling and redness of the cuticle around the infected nail. Also, the nail may fall off or lift from its nail bed.
- Proximal subungual onychomycosis
Compared to the previously mentioned infections, this type of onychomycosis is less common. It can develop in toenails and fingernails and the yellowing of the nail starts right at the nail base. Those who have weak immune systems are particularly prone to this infection and just like other types of onychomycoses it can develop after a nail injury.
Preventing infections is important
It is a good idea to make sure you prevent fungal infections of the nails as much as possible by following simple steps. You should remember that if you have already had onychomycosis in the past, you are more prone to recurring infections.
The steps you should take to minimize the risk include the following:
- Keep your nails trimmed and clean
- If you have an infected nail, make sure you disinfect your tools and wash your hands after touching it
- Thoroughly dry your feet after a shower
- Make sure that you go only to reputable salons for manicure and pedicure
- Don’t walk barefoot in public places
- Wear flip flops if you have to use a public shower
- Minimize the use of nail polish
- If your feet are often moist, use antifungal powders, buy shoed from natural materials., and wear socks designed to keep your feet dry
A common problem that affects millions
Onychomycosis is a problem that affects numerous people. It is important not to postpone your visit to the doctor if you notice any of the mentioned symptoms, as the condition will become more difficult to treat over time. There are many effective drugs out there that treat onychomycosis, but it’s important to follow safety precautions to make sure that this problem doesn’t return.