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What Causes a Nail Fungus Infection?

toenail fungus
To find out what causes a nail fungus infection we need to know what a nail fungus infection is. Onychomycosis, or nail fungus, is a fungal infection that affects one or more of the nails. It often begins with the appearance of a white or yellow spot beneath the fingernail or toenail. In time, the fungus spreads deeper into the nail, often causing it to thicken, discolor and become brittle. When left untreated, nail fungus can be both embarrassing and painful. Unfortunately, these infections are notoriously difficult to treat, and reinfection is very common. But you may be asking yourself still, “What causes a nail fungus infection?”

What Causes a Nail Fungus Infection

Fungal nail infections are most often caused by a fungus that is a member of the dermatophyte group of fungi. In a limited number of cases, though, yeasts or molds are are to blame for fungal nail infections. Fungi are microscopic organisms that are able to survive without any light from the sun. They thrive in environments that are warm and moist. Common breeding grounds for fungus include swimming pools, public showers, gyms and locker rooms. Fungus can also grow inside shoes that have gotten wet if the shoe does not allow for adequate airflow. Athletes often experience fungal nail infections due to fungus growing in athletic shoes when he or she sweats.

Fungus can cause an infection by entering the skin through small visible or invisible cuts. An infection can also occur when the fungus gets through a small separation between the nail bed and the nail. If the area is kept cool and dry, the fungus may not be able to survive to cause a full infection, but nails that are regularly exposed to warmth and moisture allow fungus to grow and spread. Because the toenails are frequently confined inside the warm, dark, moist environment of a shoe while the fingernails are usually in the open, infections of the toenails are much more likely. In older individuals, decreased blood circulation can also lead to an increased chance of fungal infections that affect the toenails because poor circulation makes it more difficult for the body’s immune system to detect and get rid of infections.

Once they develop, fungal nail infections are very hard to get rid of. This is due to the fact that it is difficult for topical medications to penetrate the nail to reach the site of the infection, and oral medications have numerous side effects. By knowing what causes a nail infection, though, you can greatly decrease your odds of getting one in the first place.

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