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Health Risks Associated with Onychomycosis

Onychomycosis, more commonly referred to simply as nail fungus, is a common condition that affects a large number of adults. It is especially common among diabetics, individuals with suppressed immune systems and the elderly.

What is Onychomycosis?

Onychomycosis is a type of fungal infection that can affect the toenails or fingernails. It is, however, more likely to affect the toes because of the warm, moist environment that is often present in shoes.

Fungal nail infections are caused by fungi, yeasts and molds that feast on the nails. All three types causes similar symptoms. In most cases, it is not possible to tell what type of infection is present through just a visual examination.

These are several risk factors for onychomycosis including family history, trauma or advancing age. People who regularly use public showers or locker rooms, such as at gyms or public pools, are also more likely to pick up infections that affect the nails. Wearing closed-toed shoes that do not allow for adequate airflow can also lead to infections.

Health Risks Associated with Onychomycosis

During the early stages, many people see fungal infections of the nails as a primarily cosmetic concern. When left untreated, however, they can lead to additional health problems. Onychomycosis causes the nails to turn yellow, thicken and split. The toenails may become so thick that wearing shoes becomes very uncomfortable. The pressure of wearing a shoe can cause severe pain and irritation.

Because onchomycosis is most common among individuals with diabetes and those with weakened or suppressed immune systems, taking care of the infection is essential. When left untreated, it can lead to a more serious or even life-threatening infection that can spread to other parts of the body.

Fingernail infections often lead to further complications. In addition to the health risks associated with onychomycosis, it is common for patients with infected fingernails to experience social and psychological problems as well as problems at work.

Nearly half of all disorders of the nails are caused by onychomycosis. The infections can be very difficult to cure. It is typically easier to cure fingernail infections than toenail infections. Even with treatment, most patients will still have some discoloration and nail changes that will not go away. Unfortunately, about half of patients will experience reinfection.

Treatment Options

Because the nails grow very slowly and receive little blood supply, it can be very difficult to treat nail infections. The most common treatments are topical antifungal medications that are applied to the skin and nail. These products are available over-the-counter, but stronger, more effective topical creams are available by prescription. Oral prescription medications have also proven to be effective. Laser therapy is one of the newest treatments available. A laser’s powerful beam is strong enough to penetrate the nail to kill the infection quickly. In some cases, it may be necessary to completely remove the nail in order to get rid of the infection and prevent it from spreading to other areas.

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