When was the last time you looked at your toenails? Believe it or not, they can offer clues to your health. Sometimes, these clues are less obvious — like how spoon-shaped indentations can mean you’re anemic or pits in the nail’s surface can indicate psoriasis. However, the signs are harder to miss at other times, like when you have a fungal infection.
Nail fungus is a common problem that causes a variety of symptoms, including:
- Discoloration, ranging from white to yellow-brown
- Thick, brittle, or crumbly nails
- Distorted nail shape
- Foul-smelling debris under the nail bed
- Nails that darken or lift from the nail bed
- Pain or sensitivity to touch
Both your toenails and fingernails are susceptible to fungal infections, but they’re most common on your feet. Board-certified podiatrist and wound care specialist Michael Tran, DPM, treats nail fungus infections at AllCare Foot & Ankle Center at locations in Arlington and Dallas, Texas.
Toenail fungus is one of the leading reasons that people see podiatrists. Here’s what you should know about this contagious condition.
What’s to blame for nail fungus
Your feet naturally carry a population of fungi, even when you practice the best hygiene. You can also acquire fungus from common surfaces that support fungal growth.
The most common cause of fungal infection involves dermatophyte. However, you can also develop nail infections from yeast and molds. Most fungi thrive in dark, warm, and moist environments, which make your feet an ideal environment for fungal infection.
When you come in contact with a fungal organism, it can also penetrate the surface of a toenail where it can grow unabated when conditions are right. Anyone can develop a fungal infection, but your chances are higher if you’re over 65 and have any of the following conditions:
- Nail injuries
- Poor circulation, like peripheral vascular disease
- Weakened immune system
- Hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating)
- Regular use of artificial nails
Also, wearing closed-toed shoes for prolonged periods can foster a perfect environment for fungi to flourish. Frequent use of public showers or swimming pools increases your exposure to new sources of fungus.
How nail fungus spreads
About 10% of Americans experience a nail fungus infection at some point, with that number climbing to 50% for people age 70 and older. That’s because nail fungus is highly contagious and spreads easily when people touch infected surfaces.
A common fungus is athlete’s foot. This infection affects the skin on your feet and spreads when bare feet come in contact with contaminated surfaces — and it can infect your toenails. Examples of these areas include locker rooms, swimming pool decks, saunas, or other public places where you usually don’t wear shoes.
You can also come in contact with fungal infections at nail salons. If you use professional nail services, always ask about their sanitizing procedures because fungus can easily transfer from person to person via infected files, clippers, and other unsterilized tools.
Your chances of contracting nail fungus also increase if someone in your home has a fungal infection.
Preventing a fungal infection
While treatments exist, fungal infections can be notoriously difficult to eradicate, especially with over-the-counter solutions. If you find yourself in high-risk environments for foot fungus, take extra precautions to protect your feet. To avoid an infection, Dr. Tran recommends that you:
- Avoid going barefoot in public areas by using shower shoes or flip-flops
- Keep your toenails trimmed and clean
- Wash and dry your feet regularly
- Thoroughly wash your hands when touching an infected toe to prevent spread to your fingernails
- Limit your use of nail polish and artificial nails
While you can reduce your risk of a fungal infection, you may not be able to eliminate it completely.
Getting treatment for nail fungus
If infection sets in, a visit to Dr. Tran is your best option. He can recommend an effective treatment based on the type of fungal infection you have. In most cases, this involves prescription oral or topical antifungal medications.
To discuss additional ways to protect yourself or get treatment, contact the AllCare Foot & Ankle Center location nearest you by calling or booking a visit online today.