Fungal infection of the toenail, also known as onychomycosis, is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It occurs when fungi, such as dermatophytes, yeasts, or molds, invade the toenail and begin to grow and spread. Over time, the fungus causes the toenail to become discolored, thickened, brittle, and distorted in shape. If left untreated, the infection can spread to other toenails and even fingernails. Although not life-threatening, fungal toenail infections can be painful and embarrassing and may impact the quality of life. Prompt diagnosis and treatment are key to curing fungal toenail infections and preventing recurrence.
What Are The Symptoms Of Fungus Of The Toenail?
Fungal toenail infections cause several noticeable symptoms in the appearance of the toenail. Early symptoms may include:
- Toenail discoloration – the nail may turn white, black, yellow, green, or brown
- Thickening of the toenail
- Brittleness and crumbling of the edges of the nail
- Distorted nail shape
- A buildup of debris under the nail
As the infection worsens, the toenail may:
- Become loose, raised up from the nail bed
- Develop grooves or striations
- Emit a foul odor
- Cause pain, tenderness, or swelling around the toe
The above changes occur as the fungus continues to grow and invade deeper layers of the nail. If left untreated, the nail may eventually become so thick that it is painful to wear shoes.
Causes Of Fungus Of The Toenail
A variety of factors can increase the risk of developing a fungal toenail infection:
⛔ Exposure to humid, moist environments – Fungi thrive in warm, damp places like public showers or locker rooms. Wearing shoes that trap moisture and don’t allow proper airflow can also create an environment for fungi to grow.
⛔ Impaired immune system – Conditions like diabetes, cancer, or HIV/AIDS can weaken the immune system and make it harder to fight off infections.
⛔ Injuries to the nail or skin – Cracks or damage to the toe or toenail provide an entry point for fungi.
⛔ Using public pools and showers – Fungal spores can spread from contaminated surfaces.
⛔ Poor foot hygiene – Not properly drying between the toes or wearing clean socks daily increases the risk.
⛔ Perspirationy feet – Sweaty feet provide the right conditions for fungus.
⛔ Older age – Toenails tend to thicken with age, making infections more likely.
⛔ Smoking – Some research links smoking with increased susceptibility to toenail fungus.
⛔ Genetics – Some people seem prone to chronic fungal nail infections.
Treatment For Fungus Of The Toenail
Several treatment options exist for fungal toenail infections. The approach usually depends on the severity of symptoms:
✅ Oral antifungal medications – Prescription drugs like terbinafine or itraconazole are taken daily for 6 to 12 weeks to cure fungal nail infections.
✅ Topical antifungal nail polish or cream – For mild cases, daily application of an antifungal directly on the affected nail may help.
✅ Laser therapy – A relatively new treatment, laser therapy uses focused light to penetrate the nail and kill fungus. Several sessions are required.
✅ Surgical removal – For long-term or severe fungal nail infections, removal of the infected part of the nail may be recommended. The nail will eventually regrow.
✅ Over-the-counter remedies – Antifungal lacquers, powders, creams, or ointments may help reduce symptoms.
No matter the treatment, properly trimming infected nails helps topical medicine penetrate better. Keeping feet clean and dry and avoiding injury to toes or nails also helps prevent the recurrence of fungal toenail infections.
Fungal infection of the toenail or fingernail can happen to anyone. The discoloration, thickening, and crumbling of an infected nail can cause embarrassment and discomfort. Thankfully, real solutions exist, from oral medications to laser therapy. With proper treatment, fungi can be eliminated and healthy, clear nails restored. By understanding the cause and practicing good foot hygiene, recurrences can also be avoided. Don’t neglect foot pain or nail deformities. See a podiatrist or dermatologist promptly for an evaluation. Addressing a fungal nail infection quickly can help avoid permanent nail damage and potentially serious complications.
A: Toenail fungus is caused by microscopic fungi called dermatophytes. These fungi thrive in warm, moist places. Risk factors for infection include frequent barefoot walking in damp areas like pools, showers, or locker rooms. Toenail trauma, poor circulation, a weakened immune system, and genetics also play a role.
A: Mild cases can be treated at home with over-the-counter topical antifungal ointments, creams or nail polish applied daily. Keeping nails trimmed and feet dry and clean is also important. For severe or persistent infections, see a doctor for oral antifungal medication.
A: The fastest way is through oral antifungal medication prescribed by a doctor. Terbinafine and itraconazole are two commonly prescribed medications that penetrate the nail quickly and begin eliminating fungus in a few weeks. Taking the full course of medication as directed is key.
A: With prescription oral antifungals, it can take 3-6 months for an infected nail to completely clear as a new healthy nail grows in. Topical treatments require daily application for up to a year. Laser treatments may take several sessions over 4-6 months to resolve fungal toenail infections.
A: Yes, fungal infections can spread from one toenail to another toenails, fingernails, and even other people. Avoid sharing towels, socks, shoes, nail clippers, etc. Disinfect showers after use. See a doctor at the first sign of infection to avoid spreading.