Fungal nail infection

Fungal nail infections (onychomycosis) can go away of their own accord however, most often the best treatment is a fungicidal non-prescription ointment. Unhealthy nails affect a large percentage of the population and is caused by fungus.

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Example of a advanced staged fungal infection on toenails

Fungal nail infection
There are many types of fungi on the body, living in symbiosis with us. They survive on the surplus products that the body produces. Another common name for fungi living on the body is dermatophytes or skin fungi. Dermatophytes do not normally cause difficulties. It is only when they have attached themselves inside the skin or when they become too plentiful that they can be the source of problems; when this happens, it is referred to as a fungal infection.

Skin fungi live on the entire body, and may infect many parts of it. Certain parts of the body are affected more often than others, and fungal infections of the nails are among the more common varieties of fungal infections. It is estimated that as many as 10% of adults suffer from fungal nail infections. Toenails are more often affected than the nails of the fingers.

What is fungal nail infection and why does one become infected?
The cause of a fungal nail infection is that one or more nails have been infected with dermatophytes. There is more than one type of dermatophytes that can cause the infection but up to 95% of all fungal infections of the nails are the result of a fungus which is known as trichopython rubrum. Fungal nail infections are cosmetic complaints not considered harmful to the health.

One can suffer from a fungal nail infection by a number of different reasons.

  • The first and possibly most common cause is Athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) that has spread to the toenails. This occurs when one has not dealt with the Athlete’s foot condition fast enough.
  • The fungus can attack the nails directly.
  • Additionally, one can become infected via direct contact with other people or indirectly via stockings, shoes or floors in changing rooms or showers.

There are individual reasons as to the susceptibility of infection, but the risk is generally low. Since contagious skin fungi are constantly in our presence, most people have good immunity against fungal infections of the nails.

Fingers and toes
Toenails are more often affected than fingernails. The reason for this is likely due to the fact that toenails grow more slowly than fingernails. The invading fungus get more time to attach itself to a nail that grows more slowly. The number of nails simultaneously affected varies, but it is very seldom that all the nails of a foot or hand are affected at once.

Symptoms
Fungal infections of the nails usually present recognisable signs, but there can be a risk of confusing the symptoms of a fungal nail infection with other diseases and issues.

Symptoms that can be observed when one is affected by a fungal nail infection are:

  • Infected nails become discoloured. The colours may vary between white, yellow and grey.
  • Affected nails become thicker, porous and tender. The process making them porous starts at the edge of the nail and works its way towards the centre.
  • The nails are easily damaged. As the infection develops, parts of the nail may break or crumble of their own accord.
  • If the fungal nail infection is not treated, the skin may become inflamed; a particular pain may become present beneath or around the nail.

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An example of how how fungal nail infection may develop
The above-mentioned symptoms are those commonly present in connection with fungal nail infections. In addition, a scaly complexion may develop on the skin near the nail, and white to yellow dots may appear on the nail’s surface. Pain is not particularly common in relation to fungal nail infections, but it may occur.

Who may contract fungal nail infection?
The complaint primarily afflicts adults and adolescents; children are seldom affected. When children exhibit symptoms typical of fungal nail infections it is a good idea to contact a doctor for a thorough examination.

Risk factors
Everyone can be afflicted by fungal nail infections, but there are conditions which raise the risk of being stricken or infected.

  • Men run a higher risk of contracting fungal infections of the nails.
  • Ageing appears to have a certain effect on susceptibility to infection.
  • Increased age is thought to have an effect, due to the fact that the nails grow more slowly and become thicker. One experiences a more extended exposure to skin fungi, and blood circulation becomes poorer.
  • Unusually abundant perspiration of the feet.
  • Frequent presence in damp environments, such as bath houses or showers.
  • Persons with psoriasis.
  • Stockings and shoes with poor ventilation.

In connection with minor damage to the nails or skin, or if one has other infections of the fingers or toes, increased risk of infection may result. Even sicknesses or health problems such as diabetes, circulatory problems or compromised immunity can often lead to increased vulnerability to fungal nail infections.

Treatment
Fungal nail infections are first and foremost a cosmetic condition. The most important reason to treat the complaint is to be rid of the unsightly appearance. Untidy nails can affect self-esteem and self-confidence in social situations, especially if it is the fingernails that are affected. One of the best methods to avoid fungal attacks of the toenails is to treat Athlete’s foot as early as possible; this reduces the risk of the infection spreading to the toenails.

Fungal nail infections can heal by themself but this can take a long time, and it not certain that the infections actually clear up on their own. It can take up to a year or more for the symptoms to disappear. In order to be completely rid of the infection it is in most cases necessary for a new uninfected nail to grow out and replace the old infected tissue.

Fungal nail infections should be treated as early as possible. The condition can respond poorly to treatment; a number of repetitive treatments may be necessary, and the difficulties can return after completion of the treatment. Non-prescription and prescription remedies are available for dealing with fungal nail infections.

Mild or moderate discomfort
Non-prescription treatments are those that inhibit fungal affliction and give the nails a more normal appearance. These treatments slow down the attack of the fungus and, aside from reducing the unsightly appearance, can also heighten the possibility of eliminating the infection, due to its deceleration. If only a part of one nail is affected by the infection, one may apply a treatment which normalises the cosmetic effects and checks the fungal invasion. Non-prescription treatments do not kill the fungus.

More serious complaints
Prescription treatments are more potent and will kill the fungus. A suitable treatment with fungicidal agents is formulated in consultation with a doctor. In many cases, a six-week or longer treatment of pills is prescribed. The risk of re-infection after completion of the treatment is relatively high; in up to half the instances, the fungal nail infection return.

If the difficulties of the fungal nail infection are mild or moderate, one may try non-prescription treatment prior to contacting a doctor for continuing care. Generally speaking, fungal nail infections should be treated as early as possible, regardless whether the affliction affects the finger- or toenails. Fungal attacks on the fingernails is considered a more serious problem and is almost always actively treated. Toenails are cared for differently, since the infection is not as visible. In contrast to fingernails, which are almost always treated, it can be the case that an active cure for toenails is not put into effect after consultation and diagnosis by a doctor.