Many people develop a fungal nail infection at some point in their life. It's not usually serious, but can be unpleasant and difficult to treat. The infection develops slowly and causes the nail to become discoloured, thickened and distorted. Toenails are more frequently affected than the fingernails. The medical name for a fungal nail infection is onychomycosis.
Signs and symptoms of a fungal nail infection A fungal nail infection may not cause any obvious symptoms at first. As it progresses, the infection can cause:
discolouration of the nail – it may turn white, black, yellow or green
thickening and distortion of the nail – it may become an unusual shape or texture and be difficult to trim
pain or discomfort – particularly when using or placing pressure on the affected toe or finger
brittle or crumbly nails – pieces may break off and come away completely
Sometimes the skin nearby may also become infected and be itchy and cracked or red and swollen.
Treatments for fungal nail infections Treatment isn't always needed for a mild fungal nail infection because it's unlikely to cause any further problems and you may feel it's not worth treating.Whether you decide to have treatment or not, you should still practise good foot hygiene (see below) to stop the infection getting worse or spreading to others.
A procedure to remove the nail completely may be recommended in severe cases. Laser treatment, where a high-energy laser is used to destroy the fungus, is also an option.
Is the Treatment Painful? During the Nail Fungus Laser Treatment, a laser beam will be slowly directed across the nail bed. The laser beam will generate heat beneath the nail and within the underlying fungal colony. You will feel a warm sensation during the procedure which lasts 1 minute to 2 minutes per toenail. There may be a slight pain sensation as a result of the heating effect of the laser treatment.
How soon will I have Clear Nails? You will not see a result immediately, but rather over a period of months as the nail resumes healthy growth. Nails grow slowly, so you may not see a significant improvement for several months, but you should see a gradual growth of clear nail.
Will I need more than one Treatment? Additional treatments may be recommended depending on the severity of the fungal infection. Your podiatrist will talk with you about the possibility of having additional treatments and will also advise you on the proper care of your nails to minimize the risk of recurrence.
How do you get a fungal nail infection? Most fungal nail infections occur as a result of the fungi that cause athlete's foot infecting the nails. These fungi often live harmlessly on your skin, but they can sometimes multiply and lead to infections. The fungi prefer warm, dark and moist places like the feet. You're more likely to get a fungal nail infection if you:
don't keep your feet clean and dry
wear shoes that cause your feet to get hot and sweaty
walk around barefoot in places where fungal infections can spread easily, such as communal showers, locker rooms and gyms
have damaged your nails
have a weakened immune system
have certain other health conditions, such as diabetes, psoriasis orperipheral arterial disease
Preventing fungal nail infections You can reduce your risk of developing a fungal nail infection by:
keeping your hands and feet clean and dry
wearing well-fitting shoes made of natural materials and clean cotton socks – these will allow your feet to "breathe"
clipping your nails to keep them short – don't share clippers or scissors with other people
not sharing towels and socks with other people, and ensure your towels are washed regularly
not walking around barefoot in public pools, showers, and locker rooms – special shower shoes are available to protect your feet
replacing old footwear that could be contaminated with fungi
treating athlete's foot as soon as possible to avoid the infection spreading to your nails
Nail salon equipment can sometimes be the source of fungal nail infections. If you regularly visit a salon, make sure any equipment used is properly sterilised between uses.