Onychomycosis is a fungal infection, usually of the toenails, that is progressive and generally does not go away on its own. Proper detection, diagnosis and early treatment can help speed up recovery, and prevent any permanent damage being done to the nail.
How to Identify Nail Fungus?
Signs of fungal nail infection
Fungal nail infections (onychomycosis) are estimated to account for up to 50% of all nail problems, making it a very common concern. The numbers are thought to be higher for the elderly.
These are some typical signs that you might have a fungal nail infection:
- Discoloured toenails (yellow, white or brown discolouration)
- Brittle toenails
- Crumbling toenails
- Thick toenails
Possible complications of nail fungus
As the infection progresses, the nail could become painful and thicker. Nail fungus can also spread to other nails and the surrounding skin, causing Athlete’s foot. Nail fungus treatment can be difficult, so early identification is critical in your recovery process.
These are some typical signs that your fungal nail infection is becoming more severe:
- Further toenail discoloration from yellow to a darker color
- Further brittleness and crumbling
- Possible pain under toenail
- Toenail thickening
- Spreading of the infection to other nails
- Spreading of the infection to the surrounding skin
Causes and Prevention
What causes nail fungus?
The most common fungi involved in fungal nail infections are Trichophyton rubrum and Tricyphyton mentagraphyte. These fungi like warm, moist environments, such as shoes. Public areas like gym locker rooms, shower rooms and swimming pools are common areas of exposure to fungi. The feet have less blood circulation, making it harder for your immune system to fight off the fungi your feet are exposed to.
Are some people more susceptible to fungal nail infections?
Although everyone is potentially susceptible, there are several risk factors that make a person more likely to get infected. Many factors are lifestyle-related and having an active lifestyle can often expose a person to situations where contact with fungus is more likely. There are also genetic and health factors that can increase the risk of infection for:
- People 55 years or older
- People with diminished blood circulation
- People with previous or existing injury or infection of the nail
- People with a weakened immune system (HIV/AIDS, diabetes)
Is nail fungus contagious?
Fungal nail infections are in fact contagious, but not in any way that should cause panic. Fungal infections commonly spread from the nail to the skin and vice versa. Many fungi called “dermatophytes” feed on keratin, the basic material of skin and hair, to grow and spread.
Accidental transmission from person to person is quite uncommon, unless there is constant intimate contact. The fungi that can cause nail fungus infections are very commonplace and are very difficult to avoid completely. Generally, in healthy individuals, the immune system will defend the body from infection and repel these fungi, even if they come into contact with the skin or the nail.