Fungal nail infections, also known as onychomycosis, occur when fungi attack your nail or nail bed. Fungal infection can affect both fingernails and toenails but is more common in toenails.
Most people assume that a fungal nail infection is related to poor hygiene and is contagious, but that is not necessarily true. Many factors can up your risk of a fungal nail infection that ranges from poor hygiene to use of contaminated water and infections. Here is a quick read on the common causes of fungal infection, why you should not ignore fungal infections and tips to prevent nail infections caused by a fungus.
Causes Of Fungal Nail Infections
It is a well-known fact that fungus thrives in places that are warm and moist, which in turn increases the risk of fungal infections. You might be at high risk of suffering from fungal nail infection if you:
-Shower in public showers like those at the gym due to contamination of the water
-Use public swimming pools as these pools might contain water which is not cleaned for a long time and thus, can harbor fungus.
-Walk barefoot through these places as the contaminated water can get in touch with your feet and this can lead to a fungal infection of the nail as water along with dirt can get accumulated in the nail creases.
-Wear socks and tight shoes, especially during summers which can increase the chance of fungal nail infections. This is because the hot and humid weather conditions and excessive sweating during the summer season can act as an ideal environment for fungal growth.
-Go to salons for pedicure or manicure which do not clean their instruments well before each use. This is one of the easiest ways to cause fungal nail infection.
Fungal Nail Infections: Signs To Watch Out For
As fungal nail infections can affect any number of nails it is important to check your fingernails or toenails regularly for any of the following warning signs:
-Yellow streaks appearing on the nail
-Yellow or white spots at the bottom of the nail
-Increase in the thickness of the nail
-Separation or splitting of the nail from the skin
-Odour emanating from the nail
Treatment of Fungal Nail Infections
Fungal nail infections treatment does not guarantee to rid you of the problem forever, but it can relieve your symptoms and prevent future problems. An over-the-counter medication is not recommended as it is not likely to give you the best results. Fungal infections of nails can be hard to treat and require long term treatment. Hence, visit a dermatologist or a podiatrist (also known as foot and ankle surgeon) who will find out the extent of damage to your nail or nail bed and give you a prescription that is appropriate for your condition.
In addition to following proper foot care hygiene, there are few natural remedies that are known to help treat and reduce the severity of fungal infections. This includes:
-Coconut oil: It is a commonly used home remedy for fungal nail infections as it is believed to have strong antibacterial and antifungal properties. Apply pure coconut oil on the infected area at least four to five times a day for 2-3 days for the signs to show improvement and hasten the healing process.
-Tea tree oil: This is an essential oil that is packed with powerful anti-fungal properties. Commonly available in stores, it is advised to use this oil in diluted form and not in concentrated form to reap its benefits. Add 1-2 drops of tea tree oil to 10 ml of any carrier oil like almond oil or coconut oil, mix and apply it to the infected area. Do this twice a day till the infection starts to heal.
What Will Happen If Fungal Nail Infections Are Not Treated?
Most people do not treat their infection because they assume it will either go away on its own or it won’t affect their lives that much. But a fungal nail infection can eventually become a cause of pain and discomfort. Sometimes, even walking or standing could cause you a lot of pain, let alone wearing shoes. The fungus can also very easily spread to your other unaffected nails. In some cases, leaving the infection untreated for a long time can result in serious permanent damage to your nail and nail bed.
Fungal nail infections can also be accompanied by pain, which is a sign that the infection is getting worse, which in turn can increase the risk of complications in the foot. Also, most people think that white spots on the nails are caused due to nutrient deficiency and hence, tend to ignore it. However, if these dots are growing in size, fail to improve over weeks or appear frequently, it is a sign of fungal infection and can lead the infection to spread to the entire nail.
Tips To Prevent Fungal Nail Infections
– Wash your feet with warm water. You can even add a few drops of an antiseptic liquid to clean the feet or use a milk soap for the same. Make sure you do not use too much of the antiseptic liquid or use a harsh soap as it can cause the skin to become dry.
– Make sure you dry your feet well after washing your feet or taking a bath, especially in the area between the toes. These places are often neglected which in turn can act as the ideal ground for fungal infections.
– Use antifungal powder to prevent infection as it helps to keep you toes dry and thus, lower the risk of infection.
– Wear open footwear like floaters, slipper and sandals as it not only allows the skin to breathe but also helps to keep it dry.
– If you wear shoes more often, then opt for the ones made from leather as it helps to keep the feet dry. Also, give your shoes a rest by opting different pairs as it helps the shoes to breathe and keep it dry. If your feet gets sweaty after a walk or workout, then change it as soon as possible.
– Wearing the same socks day in and day out can increase the risk of fungal infections due to the accumulation of sweat. Hence, it is advised to wear a clean pair of socks every day.
– If planning to get a pedicure or manicure, then make sure you pick a nail salon that maintains a reasonable level of hygiene as these places can increase the risk of fungal nail infections.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Lalit Kanodia, General Physician)