Toenail fungus, also known as onychomycosis, is a fairly common condition that can start as a white or yellow spot under your toenail. As the infection progresses, it can cause your nail to thicken, discolor and crumble. The big toe and the little toe are the nails that are most likely to be affected, though it can spread to all nails. This condition is caused by any one of the many types of fungi that grow in the moist warm environment in your shoes. As they grow, they invade and feed on the protein (keratin) that makes up the hard surface of the toenails, causing a slightly foul odour. Wearing tight-fitting shoes or layers of nail polish increases the risk of developing toenail fungus. It can also be spread person-to-person in public areas, such as locker rooms and showers. Having a chronic condition such as diabetes or one that affects your circulation, also increases your risk of fungal infection.
What to use
There are many over the counter antifungals available, from our clinic, your drug store or health food store. Tea tree oil has been used by many people with good success, though the pungent odour is not appreciated by all users. There are other products that can be sprayed on or painted on, ask for recommendations from your Footcare Nurse or Pharmacist. If you have tried over the counter antifungals and the fungus does not improve or worsens, consult your doctor, there are other options.
How to use it
Nail fungus is stubborn. When treating nail fungus, the antifungal must be applied consistently in order to work. Antifungals cannot repair the damage that has been done by the fungus, but they can stop the further spread of the fungal growth. By applying the antifungal every day, the infection is halted until the damaged part of the nail grows out. This can take months; you will want to be sure the entire fungal nail has grown out before stopping treatment as any left can reinfect the nail. Wash your hands after touching an infected nail. Nail fungus can spread from nail to nail.
When to stop treatment
It is suggested that you apply the antifungal as directed for one additional month after the nail appears clear. You may want to apply an antifungal a few times a week after the infection is clear to prevent a reinfection.
Steps you can take to prevent fungal toe nail infection or reinfection
- Wash your feet regularly, when trimming your toe nails keep them short and your feet dry.
- Wear socks that absorb sweat. Fabrics effective at wicking away moisture include wool, nylon and polypropylene. Change your socks often, especially if you have sweaty feet.
- Throw out old shoes. If possible, avoid wearing old shoes, which can harbor fungi and cause a reinfection. Treat your shoes with disinfectants or antifungal powders.
- Give up nail polish and artificial nails. Although it may be tempting to hide nail fungal infections under a coat of pretty pink polish, this can trap unwanted moisture and worsen infection.
- Don’t go barefoot in public places. Wear sandals or shoes around pools, showers, and locker rooms.