Fungal Nail Infection: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments
Fungal nail infection overview and symptoms
Change in colour to either the toenails or fingernails is most often due to an underlying medical cause. Yellow, brown or a white powdery look to the nail plate is most likely due to a fungal infection to the nail, or underneath the nail. This infection is referred to as onychomycosis and can affect fingernails and toenails.
Individuals can feel embarrassed and ashamed to have discolouration to their nails however it is actually quite common. Between 1-2 in every 10 adults will be suffering from the same issue. This issue seems somewhat ‘taboo’ to talk about and most people will try to cover up their nails with footwear or nail polish. Unfortunately, in the case of nail polish, this provides the perfect environment to thrive as it is dark and humid. The nail then will start looking worse.
What causes fungal nail infections?
The most common cause of fungal nail infections are dermatophytes. These little organisms feed off keratin which is found in the skin and nails. It is far easier to penetrate vulnerable skin than nail. Affected nails will usually have had some reason they are vulnerable to the fungal organism entering, usually either trauma, a split to the nail or pressure from a neighbouring toe.
- Unsterilised equipment at nail bars/salons: A large majority of my clients can pin point change to a nail coinciding with attending a particular nail bar/salon which unfortunately can be where fungal nail infections originate. If instruments are not medically sterilised and foot spas not suitably cleaned, this puts clients at risk of having the fungal organism transferred between individuals. Not to mention nail polish being used between individuals.
- People that are susceptible to tinea (Athletes Foot) are at a greater risk of nail infections as its likely to be the same fungal organism that transfers from the skin to a vulnerable nail plate.
- Some individuals are genetically more prone to fungal infections to the skin and nails
- Diet and general health can make certain individuals more at risk.
Other conditions that might look like a fungal nail infection
- A traumatised nail can appear discoloured and thickened, which can appear the same as a fungal nail
- Psoriatic nail
- Autoimmune disorders
- Lichen planus
What are the treatments for a fungal nail infection?
These are some common treatment options for fungal nail infections. Your podiatrist or GP can discuss which treatment option is best for you.
- Leave it alone and do nothing
Of course, you have the option to leave it. Unfortunately, this can make it spread through the nail plate and affect underneath, detaching the nail from the skin. It is far harder to treat a nail infection once it progresses. A progressed fungal nail infection can lead to surrounding bacterial infection of the skin.
- Topical lacquer/tincture
Over the counter treatment can work when the nail infection is only superficial or in its very early stages. There is a lot of misleading information about the success rates of these treatments and unfortunately they often fail.
You will need to apply the lacquer on a daily or weekly basis depending on what type you have purchased and this could be anywhere between 3 and 12 months. You should not stop this treatment until the affected nail plate has completely grown out.
- Oral antifungals (Tablets)
(Note: These are not antibiotics – which are used to treat bacterial infections)
These are prescribed by medical specialists and require a confirmed positive pathology sample. Tablets have a high rate of success however come with their downsides. As they are broken down in the body by the liver, potential side effects may include increased liver enzymes, damage to the liver, alter the effect of other tablets that individuals may also be on, generally feeling unwell and nausea. Some tablets have been linked to sensitivity of the skin and sun exposure needs to be limited.
Tablets need to be taken over a period of months. This may be a good option if people suffer with chronic tinea as well as fungal nail infections.
Like all treatments you will not see an immediate improvement. You need to wait patiently and watch the old affected nail grow out, and hopefully the base of the nail will look nice and pink and clear of infection.
- Laser treatment
Laser treatment for fungal nails works by combining both heat to kill the fungal organism as well as stimulating blood vessels supplying the nails to provide increased blood flow to the new growing nail plate to provide a healthier nail to the new growing portion.
Find out more about laser treatment for fungal nails...
- Remove the nail plate
This is certainly an option and I consider this in certain individuals. You will still be required to utilise some form of treatment option to ensure the new nail grows back without fungal involvement
- Combination of the above
Treatment of fungal nails, by an experienced professional, can incorporate the best combination of available methods.
How effective are the treatments for fungal nail infections?
Reinfection is a large problem with all treatment options. I spend a lot of time going through simple ways to look after the nails to help stop any future infections.
With all treatment options, the frustrating part of the process is waiting for the damaged portion of the nail to grow out. If the fungal infection is in its early stages or only a mild case, an individual may get a very rapid improvement and complete clearance in the affected nail. This is exciting and is why I always recommend early intervention.
There is always a chance of recurrence as the nail has been recently traumatised and weakened by the nail infection.
Book an appointment
If you know or suspect you have a fungal nail infection, book an appointment at The Nail Laser Clinic in Mandurah, Perth WA. Our experienced podiatrists can provide a diagnosis and discuss the best treatment option for you.
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