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What are fungal nails?

Fungal nails or toenail fungus is an infection in which a fungus infects the toenail. If your feet have been affected by toenail fungus, you may notice an infection in multiple toes or you may notice an infection in only one or two toes. Along with spreading from toenail to toenail, the infection may spread to other areas, such as your skin or fingernails. Left untreated, fungal nails may disrupt your ability to walk.

What causes toenail fungus?

Fungal nails occur when fungus makes its way into your toenail or skin through breaks in the nail or skin. Fungi thrive best in warm and moist places, making the shoes in which your feet spend most of their time a suitable place for fungi to settle. You may be at a higher risk of developing fungal nails if you have:

  • A history of nail infections
  • Athlete’s foot or fungal infections of the skin
  • Cancer and are on chemotherapy
  • Certain skin or nail injuries
  • Family members who are prone to nails infections
  • Skin conditions, such as psoriasis
  • Weak blood circulation
  • Received an organ transplant
  • An autoimmune condition or disease
  • Diabetes

The risk of developing fungal toenails may increase with the following lifestyle habits:

  • Being in water for extended periods of time
  • Washing or wetting your hands or feet excessively
  • Not wearing appropriate footwear when walking through hot, moist areas
  • Wearing tight-fitted or closed-toe shoes

Toenail fungus can also be caught through direct contact with a surface that someone with toenail fungus has walked on. You may also catch toenail fungus by using the same towel as someone who has fungal nails.

What are the symptoms of fungal nails?

The first sign that your toenail may be infected by fungi is the appearance of a white or yellow spot at the tip of your toe, beneath the toenail. When the toenail fungus spreads, the following symptoms may occur:

  • Affected toenails start to thicken
  • Affected toenails become weak and brittle
  • Affected toenails become discolored
  • Affected toenails become deformed
  • Affected toenails begin to darken in color
  • Affected toenails start to give off an odor

How are fungal nails diagnosed?

Fungal nails are diagnosed by your doctor through examination of your toenails for signs and symptoms of a fungal infection. Your doctor may also take clippings or scrapings of your affected toenails to send to a lab for testing. Additional testing may be used to help determine the type of fungus that has caused the infection. If you believe you have toenail fungus, you may set up an appointment with your doctor or a foot specialist who can confirm a diagnosis and determine an appropriate treatment regimen for you.

Can fungal nails lead to complications if left untreated?

Left untreated, toenail fungus may lead to pain, causing difficulties in walking.

How are fungal nails treated?

To help treat your fungal nail, your doctor may recommend certain conservative treatment options. Treatment options for fungal nails may include:

  • Oral antifungal medications
  • Antifungal nail polish
  • Antifungal cream

If conservative treatment options do not help fight off the fungal infection, your doctor may recommend surgery. Surgery may involve temporary removal of the toenail to allow your doctor to apply medicine beneath the infected nail. Your doctor may also recommend that you trim and thin your nails; this can help relieve pressure and help the medicine to travel farther down into the nail bed.

If you are experiencing signs and symptoms of toenail fungus, consult a podiatrist. Dr. Robert Stein is a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine who’s been in practice for over 25 years and strives to ensure that adults and children live without foot pain or discomfort. Call one of our locations or fill out the form on this page to schedule an appointment with South Shore Foot Care today.

Every patient is unique and so are treatments. The information on this website is for educational purposes and each individual
patient care model may differ.