Nail Fungus (Onychomycosis) – Causes, Symptoms, Home Treatment & Prevention

What is Nail Fungus?

Nail fungus (Onychomycosis) is one of the most common fungal infections that can occur to the body. This infection is caused by fungi (Fungi are an enormous group of organisms that are neither plants nor animals. They obtain nutrients through the absorption of decaying organic matter).

Nail Fungus / Toe Nail Fungus
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Fungal infections usually cause discoloration, thickening and often softening of the nails.

Fungal fingernails/toenails are very difficult to treat and may often cause permanent damage to the nails and possibly nail loss. Fungal diseases can be caused by both indoor and outdoor objects or surfaces because fungal infections are very easily transmittable. Nail fungus infections affect people all around the world.

Nail fungus infections affect people all around the world. Usually, they affect several of the nails, but not all of them.

Statistically, 3 to 12% of the population are affected by nail fungus [1]] worldwide and around 20% have experienced other kind of fungal infection at a particular point in their lives. This means that around 35millions have had a fungal infection. There are cases when fungal infection affects the areas between the toes and the skin of the feet and such condition is called athlete’s foot.

Athlete’s foot
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

 

Such infections can often appear on the skin and are actually the most common ones. Onychomycosis is usually caused by a fungus also known as

Onychomycosis is usually caused by a fungus also known as dermatophyte ( a special type of fungus growing on the skin, nails or other body surfaces), yeasts and nondermatophyte molds.

Statistically, elderly people are most prone to nail fungus infections, but such condition can also occur at much younger age. It can often affect patients with diabetes, psoriasis, diseases that suppress the immune system and blood circulation issues. A very common fungus prey.

Fingernail fungus
Seasonal onychomadesis in an elderly gentleman.
Source: https://openi.nlm.nih.gov/

A very common fungus prey are also the athletes, who usually sweat a lot more than average people.  Also, this condition more often affects the toenails than the fingernails.

Tight, occlusive footwear, such as basketball shoes or high heels can be the reason for the infection to develop.

Of course, abnormal-looking nails could be caused by various reasons, not only fungal infections. This is why you will need a professional opinion before starting any sort of treatment.

Causes

Fungal infections develop in, under or on the nail but often it cannot be noticed at the very beginning of the infection. Such condition can progress slowly if the environment is not suitable enough for the bacteria to grow. Fungi tend to develop way faster in warm, humid environment. They do not need sunlight to grow, therefore their perfect place to develop could be your shoes.

They do not need sunlight to grow, therefore their perfect place to develop could be your shoes. They feel very comfortable in warm and moist environments such as swimming pools, showers, locker rooms.

The existence of minor skin or nail injury may cause fungal infection as well.

The condition can be present for long periods of time without causing any pain or disturbing symptoms. Most of the people realize they have fungal infections after noticing the difference in the appearance of their nails. This condition usually does not cause pain, so it can take very long time before the condition being noticed.

Onychomycosis infection often causes foul odor from your toenails. And because the fungus is very prone to spreading, without providing the nails with proper treatment, the smell can easily get worse.

Symptoms

Onychomycosis makes nails thicker than usual, often warped and their shape can change a lot since the beginning of the infection.

Nails become soft, start breaking much easier than before and their color becomes whitish, yellowish, brownish or even greenish.

Some patients experience pain around the nail plate, which makes the case more severe. Painful nail fungus infections can cause permanent damage to your nails and may be the reason for other infections to start occurring.

This condition is actually a very noticeable symptom for a weakened immune system, that’s why you should consider visiting a doctor before trying to get rid of the fungal infection (which can be just a sign of the real problem that you are facing).

While fungal infections are growing under the nail, it can loosen or even separate the nail from its’ bed. The infection can be spread to the surrounding nails and skin if not treated properly. White superficial onychomycosis form on the surface of the nail, which is spread out.

If you already have an infection, it is very important to be aware that there are many other people just like you. The problem is highly common in Europe and in America and it can be treated in various ways. Treatment methods include home remedies, prescription medicines, and natural recipes. All these have both positive and negative effects, so it is very important to check which method works best for you.

It is also necessary to be informed how to prevent such infection from occurring, but if you already have the infection, you should be aware that getting rid of such problem requires both persistence and patience in order to heal completely. Sometimes treatment can take several months, but what is more important is to make sure you keep the infection from coming back again. This is why you have to follow the steps for prevention of further fungal infections.

Prevention

  • In order to prevent fungal infections on your toenails, it is very important to wear properly fitted shoes. There should be enough space for each of your toenails.
  • Also, avoid high heels and footwear which is not “breathable”.
  • You should provide an absolutely dry environment for your toenails in order to eliminate the risks for fungal infection. It would be better if you choose leather or canvas shoes, also open shoes such as sandals.
  • If possible, take off your shoes from time to time. It is very important to wear shoes that absorb the sweat produced by your feet.
  • Try to change your socks as often as possible, especially during the period of treatment.
  • When washing the dishes, always use rubber gloves.That way your fingernails will be protected from overexposure to water. What is more, you should always remember to turn inside out your rubber gloves after every usage.
  • It is extremely important to remember that one of the most unacceptable things you could do while having nail fungus is to hide the infection under nail polishes or even application of artificial nails.The truth is that both of these can worsen the problem and make it much harder to heal.
  • Do not go barefoot in public areas such as locker rooms, pools, saunas, pedicure salons, showers. Instead, consider wearing flip-flops or sandals so you can avoid potential infections.
  • Also, if you already have a fungal infection, it is essential to disinfect nails regularly. You can use antibacterial spray or some bleach-based cleanser to make sure the area is absolutely disinfected. After applying such products, it’s important to thoroughly dry the areas between the toenails.
  • Make sure you clip your nails correctly (without leaving any sharp edges), always use sanitized nail clippers or scissors and keep them short and dry. Wash your hands and feet regularly.

Home remedies

Тhere are a large number of topical medicaments in the form of creams, gels, varnishes, etc. which could be applied topically on the nail plate.

Self-medication is also an option but it usually requires more patience as treatment terms range from 6 to 12 months. Recurrence of the condition is not excluded, even after the complete healing of the problem.

Here’s  a list of the top 5 over the counter remedies for toenail treatment:

  1. Apple Vinegar & Baking Soda

Dissolve 350 ml apple cider vinegar [2] and three tablespoons of baking soda [3] in ½ L hot water. Soak your feet for 20 minutes twice a day. If possible,  dip a cotton swab on the fungal nail, fix it well and leave overnight. If you are persistent enough, you will soon discover the positive effects of the procedures.

  1. Mix equal amounts of olive oil, thyme, and tea tree oil [4][5]

Apply the mixture both on the infected nails and the healthy ones (for preventing spreading of the infection) and leave it on the nails for about 10-15 minutes. That way each of the ingredients will be able to penetrate in the affected area while removing the top layer of the nail, where the fungi are settled. It will be better to continue with the procedures 1-2 weeks after noticing a visible improvement in order to make sure the infection disappeared completely.

  1. Olive oil & Lemon juice

Massage your feet with equal amounts of olive oil [6] and lemon juice. The procedure will soften the skin and will prevent further development of the infection. The method requires persistence and massaging your feet every day for about 2-3 months will destroy the fungi on the nail surface. It requires being very persistent for a particular period of time.

  1. Coconut oil

Coconut oil [7] contains fatty acids which have the ability to penetrate into the fungi cells and dissolve them while effectively destroying the infection. Apply a layer of coconut oil on the infected surface and let it soak for 15-20 mins.

  1. Tea Tree Oil

This is one of the most popular antiseptic products available and is very successful for treating fungal infections.First, remove the dead nail with a nail clipper as thoroughly as possible. After that, clear the infected nails with antibacterial soap and water in order to remove nail dust and apply the tea tree oil on a cotton pad. Apply a cotton pad soaked in tea tree oil on the infected nails. Repeat the same procedure twice a day until you notice the growth of the healthy nail. After that, continue with the same treatment only once a day until the infection can be entirely removed.

Diagnosis 

The etiological diagnosis of nail mycosis is determined by the specific morphology of most dermatophyte species.

Diagnosis of nail fungus starts with a medical examination. In a case of doubt about the fungus of the nails, the fingernails and the toenails must be both examined, because usually both are affected, although there are few exceptions.

For more accurate diagnosis, a physician will make a native preparation by scraping material from the nail and drop potassium base on it. Before observing the nail material under a microscope, it is necessary to wait a little longer for the hardened cells to soften.

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072731/
    Nail fungus: Overview: Prevalence
  2. http://www.pchrd.dost.gov.ph/index.php/news/library-health-news/3502-apple-cider-vinegar-a-beauty-and-health-elixir
    Apple cider vinegar: A beauty and health elixir
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18396809
    Evaluation of antifungal activity of carbonate and bicarbonate salts alone or in combination with biocontrol agents in control of citrus green mold.
  4. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/tea/treeoil.htm
    Tea Tree Oil
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8195735
    Comparison of two topical preparations for the treatment of onychomycosis: Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil and clotrimazole.
  6. http://www.nafdac.gov.ng/?option=com_k2&view=itemlist&task=user&id=2240802
    Nail Fungus Treatment
  7. https://www.earthclinic.com/nail-fungus/coconut-oil.html
    Coconut Oil for Nail Fungus

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