Nail fungus infection, or onychomycosis, (on-ick-co-my-co-sis) commonly affects the toenails but can also affect the fingernails. In most cases, it is caused by the same fungus that causes athlete’s foot. People who tend to get athlete’s foot infections have a higher risk of toenail fungus. About 10% of people have nail fungus, but it is more common in older people and rare in children. Other risk factors include injuries to the toes, diabetes, psoriasis or other autoimmune diseases, and poor circulation in the feet and hands.
The common signs and symptoms of nail fungus include:
- Brittleness or crumbling of your nail
- Change in your nail shape
- Loosening of your nail at the edges
- Debris trapped under your nail
- Thickening of your nail
- White or yellow streaks
The above symptoms suggest an infection but your healthcare provider can verify the diagnosis by examining scrapings from your nail under a microscope to determine if fungus is present. The results of the microscopic exam are immediate but if fungus is not seen, then your healthcare provider may take a sample of your nail to be sent to a laboratory for a fungal culture. The results of this test may take a few weeks.
Nail Fungus Treatments
Prescription medications, either oral or topical, offer the best chance to clear onychomycosis. Treatment is challenging; oral medications may require blood work to monitor liver function and are only moderately effective. In addition to this, topical treatments may not be able to reach the fungus deep under the nail surface, and relapse happens in about 25% of cases. If your infection does not clear or returns, your healthcare provider may recommend a different medication. He or she will choose the best option for you based on the location, disease type, severity of infection, and other clinical and personal considerations.
Nonprescription products and folk remedies such as tea tree oil and Vicks Vaporub generally do not work. However, they might help support the activity of the prescription medications and are generally harmless and inexpensive.
Nails grow slowly, and improvement will be seen only when new nail grows in. A completely clear nail from bottom to top may not be visible for 9-12 months. To prevent new infections make sure to throw away or thoroughly wash old shoes, apply antifungal spray or powder to your shoes, and promptly treat an athlete’s foot infection. In addition to this, avoid using the same nail tools on normal nails that have been used on nails with a fungal infection. Be sure to wear water shoes or rubber sandals in public facilities and bring your own instruments to the nail salon.
At Advanced Specialty Care our dermatologists specialize in all of your family's skin care needs in general medical, surgical and cosmetic dermatology. Our offices in Fairfield County Connecticut are located in Danbury, Norwalk and Ridgefield.