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What is Toenail Fungus?

Nail Fungus InfectionToenail fungus, known in the medical community as onychomycosis, is a relatively common affliction of the nail that may result in yellowing, thickening, splitting or other deformity. It is often seen as a cosmetic issue, but when left untreated, it can lead to pain and discomfort.

Symptoms of Toenail Fungus

Fungus causing an infection of the toenail is usually fairly easy to see. It generally causes deformity of the nail such as discoloration (most commonly yellowing), thickening, splitting, brittleness or lifting of the nail away from the skin. During the early stages of the infection, it is most often seen as a cosmetic concern. When left untreated, thickening can lead to pain and discomfort due to the pressure of wearing a shoe. Individuals may also experience pain or discomfort if the nail completely separates from the nail bed.

What Causes Toenail Fungus?

The toenails are more common to fungal infections than the fingernails. This is because it is more common for the toes and feet to provide the warm, moist environment that allows fungi to thrive. It is also more likely for the feet to come in contact with the fungus in places like locker rooms or public showers. It is also possible to pick up fungi at public swimming pools. Individuals who tend to sweat heavily may also experience infections from mold-like fungi that grows in moist environments. Fungal infections are also common in people with weakened immune systems, diabetic patients and the elderly. They are very uncommon in children under the age of 18, but the affect up to 90% of the geriatric population.

Common Risk Factors Involved With Toenail Fungus

People who spend a great deal of time at public pools and gyms are often prone to fungal infections because the warm, moist environments found in showers and locker rooms are the ideal breeding grounds for fungi. Going barefoot in these locations is a very common cause of infection. Heavy sweating is also a common cause because it creates the same type of environment. Wearing closed in shoes or allowing the feet to remain wet for an extended period of time have both been linked to problems with the toenails. People who have weakened immune systems, diabetic individuals and the elderly are also prone to fungal infections.

Treatment Methods for Toenail Fungus

Over-the-counter topical creams are the most common treatment method for fungal infections affecting the toenails, but they are also the least effective. Prescription creams tend to be a bit more effective because they provide a higher dosage, but they still are not the most ideal method of treatment. The vast majority of patients have had the best results while taking prescription medication designed to kill the fungal infection. Some patients also undergo surgery to remove the deformed nail. When performed in conjunction with another type of therapy sign as topical or oral medication, this method is often very effective. Though it is still a relatively new procedure, laser therapy is becoming a common and successful method of killing the fungi that leads to infection.

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