Nail Fungus

Nail Fungus

Nail fungus, sounds gross – what is it?

Nail fungus is made up of tiny organisms that infect our fingernails and toenails. The fungus grows in the nail bed underneath the nail itself. Fungus infection of the nails is fairly common, with more than 35 million people in the United States having some form of it. Toenails are most often infected with fungus, primarily because the fungi prefer dark, damp places, and shoes and socks help keep the toenails dark, warm and moist.

How can I tell if I have nail fungus?

The most common symptoms are a change in nail color (usually to yellow), changes in texture (nails become crumbly and break easily) and irregular growth. There can also be some discomfort and itchiness around the nail and the nails may even develop abnormal grooves and lines.

Is this contagious?

The good news is that nail fungus is not normally contagious and it doesn’t spread to other internal organs. However, having said that, the fungi can sometimes be spread from person to person where the air is moist and people’s feet are bare. Places like shared shower stalls, common bathrooms and locker rooms are possibilities. Sharing nail files or emery boards can even pass on the nail fungi.

How do you treat nail fungus?

The best treatment is prevention. Some ways to make sure you don’t nail fungus are:

  • Keep your feet dry and avoid constant moisture
  • Avoid nonporous closed shoes made of synthetic materials – you want your shoes to breathe
  • Wear absorbent socks and change them often
  • Wear shower sandals in public showers
  • Nail polish waterproofs your nails and keeps the skin underneath moist longer. Lighter shades of polish allow light to get through the nail.
  • Artificial nails applied over your own nails have been known to contribute to the development of fungal infections of the fingernails

What if I’ve already got a nail fungus?

Topical creams applied directly to the infected area can help in less serious cases. Unfortunately, the nail itself provides a shield, protecting the fungus from the medication. You can find these creams in the foot care section of your drugstore.

In more serious cases, where the fungus infections are causing pain, recurring ingrown nails or other bacterial infections, oral medications to attack the nail fungus are available through your doctor. These are strong medications and they have potential side effects to other body organs (particularly the liver, skin and bone marrow) so doctors are often hesitant to prescribe them. If your nail fungus is serious enough that your doctor prescribes medication, you will likely be required to have periodic blood tests to monitor the impact that the medications are having on other parts of your body.

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