Nail fungus (onychomycosis)

The fungus damages part and the entire nail, including the nail plate, nail bed and root. The infection develops slowly, causing the nail to change color, thicken and bend. The concomitant signs can be cutaneous lesions on the fingers, peeling, itching and redness. Over time, the nails become so deformed that they hinder, for example, the use of the usual shoes.

Most of the time, the fungus affects the toenails. The medical name is onychomycosis. It is found mainly in the elderly and rarely in children. In most cases, ringworm of the nails develops under the influence of the dermatophyte fungus, which also affects the skin. Sometimes, the disease is caused by other types of fungi.

In mild cases, nail treatment may not be necessary. To determine the exact cause of the infection and rule out other possible diseases, a dermatologist will analyze the cut nail. Nail fungus can be cured, but it sometimes takes several months. Antifungal drugs come in the form of pills and nail polish. In the case of advanced nail fungi, they resort to surgical removal of the nail. There is also a method of laser treatment.

Signs and symptoms of nail fungus

The most common symptom of onychomycosis is discoloration and deformation of the nails. The nail can be white, black, yellow or green. As a rule, nail fungus is not very worrying at first and in most cases it has no complications. If the infection is not treated, pain in the affected nail may occur. Nail fungus makes walking and wearing shoes difficult, and if nails are affected, it can be difficult to write.

As onychomycosis develops, other symptoms appear, for example, the nail may become brittle, loose or completely peel off the nail bed. If left untreated, the fungal infection can spread to the skin of the fingers and interdigital spaces. White or yellow spots may appear on the nail bed and the skin around the nail may peel off. All of these changes can be seen in the nail fungus photo.

Causes of nail fungus

photo of fungus on the nail

The most common cause of nail damage is a fungal skin infection, such as a fungus on the foot. Normally, foot fungus develops on the skin between the toes, making it red, scaly and itchy. The fungus grows and multiplies rapidly in hot, humid environments, so prolonged use of sneakers or sweaty feet increases the chances of developing an infection. In about a third of people with fungus on their feet, tooth decay occurs.

Nail fungus can be caused by an infection caused by the candida fungus, which is also responsible for diseases such as vaginal candidiasis or stomatitis. The likelihood of developing nail fungus is greater if at work the person has to wash their hands frequently or keep them in the water for a long time. Moisture exfoliates the skin at the base of the nail, facilitating the access of fungi to the nail. The risk of developing nail lesions due to candida is higher with certain diseases, namely:

  • diabetes mellitus or psoriasis;
  • weakened immunity, for example, with HIV;
  • poor general health.

Other factors that can increase the risk of developing nail fungus include:

  • use false nails;
  • nail damage;
  • biting your nails constantly;
  • live in a hot and humid climate;
  • smoke.

With age, the likelihood of developing nail fungus increases. Sometimes the fungus appears for no apparent reason.

Nail fungus treatment

In mild cases, treatment may not be necessary. However, if left untreated, the infection can spread to other nails and to the skin of the fingers and toes. To get rid of ringworm on the nails as quickly as possible, it is important to follow simple rules: drop your shoes with sweaty feet, trim your nails and carefully monitor your foot hygiene.

With the use of medications, a new healthy nail will begin to grow at the base of the nail bed, indicating that treatment is helping. The old affected nail will gradually grow back and can be trimmed in a few months. If, after 2-3 weeks of treatment, the new nail does not start to grow, you should see a doctor. It is impossible to stop using the prescription drugs without consulting a doctor, as this can lead to the return of the infection.

Foot care tips for toenail fungus

Below are some tips on how to contain the infection during and after treatment.

  • keeping your feet dry and fresh, socks and shoes should allow your feet to "breathe";
  • wear clean cotton socks and try to wear sneakers as little as possible;
  • start treatment for fungus on the feet at the first signs of injury to prevent the infection from spreading to the nails;
  • trim your nails properly;
  • remove the affected areas of the nails with separate scissors to avoid spreading the infection;
  • wear shoes of an appropriate size, with low heels and a wide toecap;
  • putting on clean slippers in a public shower;
  • if walking is difficult due to thickened toenails, consult a dermatologist;
  • it is advisable to get rid of old shoes that may be contaminated with fungal spores.

Nail fungus remedies

advanced stage of toenail fungus

When an antifungal pill is taken, the medicine reaches the nail through the bloodstream. Most of the time, terbinafine and itraconazole are prescribed for nail fungus, which are very effective drugs. However, it takes several months of therapy to completely get rid of the infection. If treatment is not completed, the infection may return.

The advantage of the pills is that they simultaneously help to eliminate any associated fungal infections, such as fungus on the feet. Possible side effects of antifungal pills:

  • headache;
  • itch;
  • loss of flavor;
  • nausea;
  • diarrhea.

Topical remedies for nail fungus

Antifungal nail polish can be used instead of pills. It is not as effective as pills because the drug is applied to the affected nail and must reach the site of infection through it. Often, it is not possible to cover the entire injury. The treatment of a fingernail can take about six months, and the nail - up to a year.

To remove the affected nail plates, you can use a paste containing 40% urea. This paste is sold without a prescription. At night, the paste is applied gently to the affected nails, which are then covered with a dressing during the night. In the morning, the paste is washed and in the evening the nail is sanded according to the instructions and the procedure is repeated. In about two weeks, the nails affected by the fungus dissolve.

This is a painless procedure that allows you to remove the affected nail plate and get rid of the fungus. Avoid taking medications for several months and painful surgeries. After the nail plate has dissolved, the antifungal varnish should be applied to the nails twice a week so that the new nail does not become infected.

Surgery and laser treatment for onychomycosis

In cases of advanced nail fungus or severe pain, surgical removal of the nail may be recommended if other treatments fail. After the operation, over time, a new one will grow at the site of the removed nail, but this may take a year or more.

Another method of advanced nail fungus treatment is laser treatment. The laser emits powerful light energy that kills the fungus. The research results showed that this treatment method is safe and effective, with some studies reaching 90% effectiveness after 3 months. However, there is little data on the long-term effectiveness of this method, as most studies have followed people for only 3 months. To obtain a lasting result, you need to undergo treatment every 3 months for a maximum of one year. This procedure can be expensive.

The need for treatment and the choice of medication should be consulted with a dermatologist. Once the infection is cleared, the nail may not return to its original appearance. In these cases, pieces of the nail are removed for analysis to determine whether the infection persisted in the thickness of the nail despite treatment.