What Causes Toenail Fungus? How to Treat Toenail Fungus?

What is Toenail Fungus

Also known as Onychomycosis or tinea unguium, toenail fungus is defined as an overgrowth of fungi in the nails of the toes. Although fungal infections can affect the fingernails as well, toenails are at a higher risk due to frequent contamination with possible fungal organisms and retention of moisture in between toes. The disease can be clinically identified easily as the nail would become discolored, thickened and distorted.

What Causes Toenail Fungus

The fungi are usually harmless to the skin even though various conditions mentioned below may lead to invasion of different types of fungi, resulting in infections.   

Fungi grow easily in warm, dark and moist places like feet whereas the growth will get enhanced due to following reasons,

  • Dirty and wet feet, which are not maintained in a proper hygienic manner
  • Wearing shoes which cause feet to get hot and sweaty
  • Not wearing slippers when walking around the public places like roads, mud, and parks
  • Having a poor immune system
  • Having diseases like diabetes, high cholesterol, psoriasis or peripheral arterial diseases
  • Habit of washing legs frequently without getting dried them up properly
  • Wearing socks with wet feet (often school children)
  • Using nail polish over a long period of time without removing

What Causes Toenail Fungus, How to Treat Toenail Fungus - 2

Moreover, a higher risk of toenail fungus can be seen in

  • Patients with Diabetes
  • People over 65 years of age
  • People having underlying heart conditions associated with less blood circulation
  • Women wearing artificial nails regularly e.g. models and actresses
  • People who often use public swimming pools
  • People having a skin injury around the nail or on the nail

Signs and Symptoms of Toenail Fungus

Major signs and symptoms observed in patients with toenail fungi include,

  • Discoloration of the nails (the nails may become white, yellow or black)
  • Notable changes in the shape of nails
  • Thickening of nails
  • Unusual odor
  • Easy breaking of nails or parts
  • Pain when a pressure is applied
  • Tenderness
  • Signs of inflammation on the skin around the nails with itchiness, cracks, reddening and swelling

Diagnosis of Toenail Fungus

A complete history of the changes of the nails, skin around the area, habits of washing hands and feet often, and positive family history is important whereas a thorough physical examination should also be carried out in order to get an idea about the diagnosis.

How to Treat Toenail Fungus

If the patient is experiencing severe pain,

  • Antifungal tablets can be used once or twice a day for few months.
  • Special paint called antifungal nail paints can be applied directly on the nail over several months.

But,  in severe cases, complete removal of the nail is recommended.

Furthermore, latest treatments like laser treatment where a laser is used to terminate the fungi can also be considered as an option.

What Causes Toenail Fungus, How to Treat Toenail Fungus

How to Prevent Toenail Fungus

  • Have a nutrition-rich meal
  • Use antifungal powder or spray on a regular basis.
  • Avoid wearing artificial nails and nail polish.
  • Always wear slippers without staying barefoot.
  • Make sure to dry your feet after washing them
  • Wear socks when wearing shoes, boots.
  • Always use cotton socks, which absorb moisture.
  • Keep the nail short by cutting and trimming.
  • Do not share towels, socks, trimmers with others and make sure the towels and socks are clean and washed regularly.
  • When using the salons, make sure that the equipment is properly washed, cleaned or sterilized.

Image Courtesy:

“Oncymycosis” By James Heilman, MD – Own work (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia

“Toe nails black” By Beauty queen – Own work (CC0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Embogama

Embogama is a passionate freelance writer for several years. Her areas of interest include general medicine, clinical medicine, health and fitness, Ayurveda medicine, psychology, counseling and piano music