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What is toenail fungus?


Fungal Toenail

Fungal Toenail.

A fungus is a micro-organism a bit like a bacteria but from a different family. Fungus causes thrush on mucous membranes, tinea / athlete’s foot on the skin and can also infect fingernails and toenails. The nail will become discoloured and lose its solid nature, becoming crumbly and dead looking. Actually, all nails are in fact already dead. The only living part of a nail is below the skin at the base. This is important because it means that nails don’t have any potential to fight off an infection. Your nail’s only protection from being infected by fungal spores, which are everywhere – all the time, is the shiny surface of the nail. With this intact, the spores can’t settle in and grow but just slide off. Think of it like a concrete driveway: no cracks means no weeds. If cracks occur, no matter how clean you keep the environment, weeds will grow.

Fungal nails need not be painful – because the nail is dead, it has no feeling. If the nail is painful, it s almost certain to be a growth under the nail called onychophosis. This can be easily and painlessly removed by the podiatrist.

How do fungal infections in toenails happen?

Fungus gets in when the nail is damaged. Perhaps the nail was scuffed up by a close fitting shoe, gouged while you were using a nail tool or damaged by any kind of trauma. Leaving nail polish on for extended periods paints the fungus into place. Be particularly wary about communal nail polish pots and pedicure salons. Only an autoclave will kill fungal spores and they cost up to $10 000. Consider whether the local pedicurist has invested in one of these and whether the customer before you may have wanted their nails painted to hide an ugly nail fungus.

How do you treat fungal nail infection?

If you have a fungal nail, you have millions of fungi reproducing and spreading the infection through the nail. It is best treated early to prevent infection spreading to adjacent nails and other members of the household.  The podiatrist may recommend laser treatment for the nail to efficiently kill the existing infection. You can find out more about fungal nail laser treatment here. A medication in tablet form is available through your GP that is very effective, although it can be harsh on the liver. Consideration is needed if you have known liver problems, drink or have drunk significant quantities of alcohol or take other drugs that rely on the liver to metabolise them.

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