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What is toenail fungus?

Toenail fungus, medically known as onychomycosis, is a common fungal nail infection that affects the toenails and is characterized by the overgrowth of fungi within the infected nail bed and nail plate. This can lead to discoloration, thickening, or brittleness of the affected toenail.

Toenail fungus is contagious and can spread from person to person or from one nail to another. It is more commonly observed in older adults and individuals with weakened immune systems or certain underlying health conditions.

What can cause toenail fungus?

There are several factors that can increase your risk of developing toe nail fungus.

  • Tight-fitting shoes: Shoes that are overly tight or don’t allow for sufficient ventilation might produce a damp environment that encourages the growth of fungi.
  • Nail abnormalities: Fungal infections can be made worse by pre-existing nail problems such as nail psoriasis or nail deformities.
  • Poor foot hygiene: Wet or sweaty socks and shoes, inadequate cleaning of the feet, and incorrect drying of the feet all contribute to the development of fungi.
  • Trauma or nail injury: Breaking the nail or the skin around it can leave spaces for fungi to get inside and spread.
  • Weakened immune system: Diabetes, HIV/AIDS, athlete’s foot, peripheral arterial disease, and other illnesses that compromise immunity all raise the risk of toenail fungus development.

What are the symptoms of toenail fungus, and how is it diagnosed?

The symptoms of toenail fungus can vary depending on the severity of the infection. Common signs and symptoms include the following.

  • Discoloration: The affected toenail may turn yellow, brown, white, or have patches of different colors.
  • Thickened nails: The nail may become thicker than usual and may be difficult to trim.
  • Brittle or crumbly nails: Contrary to the previous point, the infected nail can also become brittle, fragile, and easily break or crumble.
  • A build-up of debris: Debris, such as skin cells, nail fragments, or fungal material, may accumulate under the nail, causing a foul odor.
  • Pain or discomfort: In some cases, toenail fungus can cause mild to moderate pain or discomfort, especially when pressure is applied to the affected nail.

The diagnosis of toenail fungus usually involves a combination of physical examination and laboratory tests. A healthcare professional will examine the affected toenail(s), looking for characteristic signs of a fungal infection. To confirm the diagnosis, a nail sample may be collected to identify the specific fungus causing the infection.

What are the treatment and aftercare options for toenail fungus?

Most fungal nail infections and fungal nails can be treated with topical or oral antifungal medications and in more severe cases, with surgical or laser treatment interventions. Good foot hygiene—such as keeping feet clean and dry, using antifungal foot powder wearing breathable socks and shoes, and avoiding shared footwear— are good for treating toenail fungus and can help prevent infection. Ask your dermatologist if you should wear nail polish and artificial nails, and if you need to go to a nail salon, choose one that uses sterilized tools and nail clippers for each customer. Effective treatment for nail fungus includes minimizing exposure to environments where fungi thrive, such as public showers or swimming pools, and avoiding walking barefoot in such areas can prevent the recurrence of a fungal infection.

Escaping the grip of toenail fungus

We at Texas Orthopaedic Associates specialize in comprehensive orthopedic care, including the treatment of toenail fungus and toenail fungal infection. If you’re dealing with the discomfort and embarrassment of toenail fungus, we have the expertise to help. Take the first step towards healthier nails by scheduling an appointment with us today.