What Are Fungal Nails?
Fungal nails is a common disease of the toenails caused by a fungus similar to that which causes athlete's foot. Infection of fingernails is much less common than toenails.
A nail with a a fungal infection may appear dry, lusterless, powdery, thickened, bumpy, and moth-eaten. The nails may be gray, yellow, brown, or black in colour, depending on the type of fungus involved. Part, or all, of the nail can be affected and one or more nails may be involved. The infection is usually first seen at the end of the nail. As the infection progresses, it works back toward the nail root, causing destruction of the nail as it travels. Occasionally there may be an unpleasant odour. The nail may separate from the underlying skin and may fall off completely.
From the time of initial exposure to the fungus, the symptoms can take up to six months to appear, by which time the fungus is well established. Because it is painless, the condition is often ignored. As a result, other nails may become infected.
What Causes Fungal Nails?
- Conditions favourable to fungal growth. Fungus thrives in warm, dark environments, such as that caused by sweaty feet in hot, closed shoes.
- Direct exposure to the fungus. Be cautious in public places where people walk barefoot, such as swimming pools, saunas, and locker rooms.
- Injury of the nail matrix may allow a fungus to enter. The matrix is the area just under the skin, below the base of the nail where the nail is formed. The injury may be caused by something falling on the toes or by wearing tight shoes.
What Should I Do if I Have Fungal Nails?
- Practice thorough nail hygiene. Avoid creating conditions that promote fungal growth. Avoid using nail polish, which blocks light, as fungus thrives in the dark.
- Reduce nail thickness, but do not cut the nail short.
- Use an anti-fungal product if the nail is cosmetically unacceptable to you, to avoid spreading to other nails, if the nail is uncomfortable, and if treatment is safe and appropriate:
- Natural care stores and pharmacies offer a variety of topical agents that may help. Tea Tree Oil is one that has proven beneficial. It must be applied directly to the nail at least twice daily and for several months. Other agents such as Kyolic and various combinations of essential oils are also considered to have anti-fungal properties.
- Continue treatment after fungus disappears as it can lie dormant and resurface again under the right conditions. Treatment must be aggressive.
- Treatment may not be successful, even if carried out diligently, as fungus is very difficult to eradicate.
- See your doctor if you wish to take a prescription oral anti-fungal medication such as Lamisil. This also must be taken for several weeks and requires monitoring by your doctor.
- In cases of severe infection, the nail may need to be removed. In such cases, anti-fungal treatment is directed to the nail bed and matrix.