Nail fungus

Toenail fungus is a common condition that starts as a white or yellow spot under the tip of the fingernail or toenail.

When the fungal infection is deeper, the infectious organisms can cause the nails to darken, thicken and break down at their ends. Usually not just a few nails are affected, but all of them.

If the fungal infection is mild and does not bother the affected person, no treatment is required.

But if pain and thickening of the nails occur, self-treatment and over-the-counter medications are often helpful. But even if the treatment is successful, the fungus in most cases re-invades.

Nail fungi are also called onychomycosis and tinea unguium. When microorganisms infect the areas between the toes and the skin, the disease they cause is called ringworm.

What are the symptoms?

You may have onychomycosis, if one or more of your nails are:

• Thickened;
• Brittle, crumbly and cracked;
• With crooked ends;
• Hard and dull;
• Darker skin color under the nails, due to the deposition of dirt under them;

Infected nails may separate from the nail bed, a condition called onycholysis.

You may feel pain in your toes or hands and may emit an unpleasant odor.

When to seek medical help?

It is recommended to seek medical advice if self-treatment has not been effective. If a diabetic suspects invasion of a fungal infection, it is imperative to seek qualified help.

What are the causes?

Fungal nail infections are usually caused by dermatophytes. Yeasts and molds can also cause nail infections.

What are fungi?

Fungi are microscopic organisms that do not need sunlight to survive. Some of them have beneficial effects.

Others cause diseases and infections.

The fungi:

• Inhabit warm and moist environments such as pools and showers;

• They can penetrate the skin through microscopic injuries that cannot be seen with the naked eye or through the small space between the nail and the nail bed.

• They may cause problems if the nails are frequently exposed to warm and humid environments.

Fungus occurs more often on toenails than on hands, and this is partly because:

• Toenails are confined to a warm, moist and dark environment, such as shoes, which create the best conditions for the fungus to develop.

• Toes have less blood supply than fingers, making it harder for the immune system to detect and stop infection.

What are the complications?

Severe cases of fungal infection on the nails can cause painful sensations and can lead to permanent damage to the nails.

And serious infections that spread beyond the toenails can occur if the affected person has a suppressed immune system due to medication, diabetes or other illnesses.

Treatment of nail fungus

In most cases, self home treatment is effective. At first, you can try using over-the-counter antifungal creams and ointments.

If you notice white spots on the surface of the nails, file them and soak your feet in warm water. Then dry the nails and apply the medicated cream or lotion.

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