Nail fungus, which is also referred to as tinea unguium, is a common condition that can affect both toenails and finger nails. However, the majority of the time nail fungus tends to grow in toenails.
In order to understand nail fungus, it is important to know exactly what fungus is. Fungi are microscopic organisms that do not require sunlight to survive. Fungi thrive in warm and moist places such as showers and swimming pools. For this reason, toenails are more often affected by fungi due to the fact that they are frequently in a dark, moist and warm environments such as shoes or work boots. In addition, toes usually have less blood flow, which decreases the immune system’s ability to detect and stop infections.
Although anyone can get a nail fungus infection, some populations are at greater risk. First of all, older people are at more risk of developing nail fungus due to reduced blood flow to the lower extremities as well as slower growing nails. People who perspire heavily such as athletes or construction workers also are at a higher risk. Males seem to develop nail fungus more often than females. The reason for this is still unclear. Finally, individuals with a weakened immune system or circulation problems are also at a higher risk.
A nail fungus infection usually starts as a white or yellow spot under the tip of the nail. As the infections progress, the fungus may cause the nail to discolour, thicken or become brittle. It can affect one or more nail at a time. In severe cases the nail may separate from the nail bed, causing pain.
In mild cases, no treatment is usually required. However, if pain is present or there is significant thickening of the nails, medication may be needed. If self-help and over-the-counter treatments are unsuccessful, it may be necessary to seek medical attention.
A doctor will generally be able to diagnose nail fungus by simply examining the nails. However, your doctor may scrape off a sample of the nail and send it to a lab in order to identify the type of fungus causing the infection. Other micro-organisms such as bacteria and yeast also cause nail infections. Thus, it is important to identify exactly what the cause of the infections is in order to determine the best course of treatment.
Oral antifungal medications such as Lamisil are often prescribed to patients with severe nail fungus infections. These drugs are usually taken for six to 12 weeks, depending on the severity of the infection. The goal of these medications is to grow a new nail which is free of infection.
Another form of treatment is medicated nail polish. Studies have shown that using oral antifungal mediation in conjunction with a medicated nail polish have the highest success rates. If all other forms of treatment fail, your doctor my recommend surgically removing the nail. A new nail will usually grow in its place however, this can take up to a year.
As I always say, prevention is the best medicine. Washing your hands and feet often and keeping your nails short and dry is by far the best way to avoid getting a fungal infection. In addition, wearing socks that wick away moisture is also good practice, especially if you wear work boots on a daily basis. To add to this, changing socks often, especially if your feet tend to sweat a lot, is also good practice. Finally, try to avoid going barefoot in public places such as showers and pools.
Keep these simple tips in mind and you will be well on your way to fungus-free nails. Until next time drive safely!
Dr. Christopher H. Singh runs Trans Canada Chiropractic at the 230 Truck Stop in Woodstock, Ont. He can be reached at 519-421-2024.