About 6-8% of adults suffer from onychomycosis or fungal infections of the nail, a condition of the nail which causes thickening, brittleness or discolouration of nails. This infects both the finger nails as well as toe nails.
Who are susceptible to nail fungus?
Elderly men are more vulnerable to nail infections. Factors that influence these infections may be hereditary, low blood circulation, heavy perspiration, tight footwear and wearing socks or shoes that inhibit ventilation or exposure of feet to dampness, moisture, etc.
Causes of nail fungus
Dermatophytes, a type of fungi that grow in the absence of sunlight are the cause for nail fungus. Some molds like Aspergillus, Scopulariopsis and Neoscytalidium may also cause nail infections. Common fungi that cause these infections are Trichophyton tonsurans, Trichophyton rubrum, Trichophyton interdigitale, Trichophyton soudanense, Trichophyton violaceum, Epidermophyton floccosum and Microsporum gypseum.
These pathogens enter skin through small fissures or cuts or gaps between the nails and nail bed. When the conditions become suitable, like warmth and moisture, in the nails, then the fungi begin to grow.
Nails which are brittle, thickened, discoloured (yellowish, dark or dull), split or ragged are typical fungal infections. Some people experience onycholysis, a condition in which nails are separated from the bed of the nail and may cause pain and a slightly foul odour.
Another symptom is dermatophytids, skin lesions that are free of fungus. This is similar to an allergy causing itchiness or rash on parts of the body which are not infected by fungus.
Diagnosis of Nail fungus
A fungal culture is generally performed using the scrapings of the nail which are taken from beneath the nail. Care needs to be taken while diagnosing nail fungus since various other conditions like psoriasis, eczema, lichen planus, trauma, contact dermatitis, yellow nail syndrome and tumor of the nail bed also possess similar symptoms.
Treatments for nail fungus
Ointments and creams are available at medical stores but are not so effective. Oral antifungal medicines like Lamisil, Sporanox and Diflucan are available but generally it takes nearly four months to replace the nail that is infected.
Apart from this, there are antifungal nail polishes like ciclopirox (Penlac) and other creams which may be used to clear the infection but complete cure of the infection will is not possible with these creams.
For extreme cases, doctors tend to extract the nail completely for curing the infection.
Prevention of nail fungus
Proper foot and hand hygiene is very important to prevent fungal infections. For example, keep nails short, clean and dry and do not bite nails, do not share socks and shoes, avoid using artificial nails and nail polish, use antifungal powders or sprays, do not wear socks or shoes that are too tight and allow feet to ventilate.