Fungal infections are caused by fungal spores which are micro-organisms. They are a bit like a bacteria but from a different family and they cause different sorts of infection in humans. Fungus causes thrush on mucous membranes such as mouth, nose and genitals. It causes tinea / athletes’ foot on the skin and can also infect the dead material of fingernails and toenails. The physical signs of toenail fungus are quite varied, including discolouration, thickening, lifting, smelly debris accumulating under the nail and generally looking ‘dead’ and rotten.
The ‘looking dead’ part is a bit misleading because the only living part of any nail is below the skin at the base. All toenails and fingernails are in fact dead, even the healthiest looking ones. This is important because it means that nails don’t have any potential to fight off an infection nor any way to heal the damage that has been done to them. Your nail’s only protection from being infected by fungal spores, which are everywhere – all the time, is the shiny top surface of the nail. With this intact, the spores can’t settle in and grow but just slide off. Think of it like you would a concrete driveway. No cracks means no weeds. If there are cracks in your driveway, no matter how clean you keep the environment of your garden, weeds will grow. Toenail fungus is not a reflection on your personal hygiene.
Toenail fungus is often not be painful. Toenail being dead, it has no feeling. If the nail is painful, its almost certain to be a growth of hard fleshy material under the nail called onychophosis. This can be easily and painlessly removed by the podiatrist. For more fungal nail information, see our printable Fungal Nail Info Sheet. For more information on the painful condition of onychophosis, browse to our Ingrown Toenail Info Sheet. For the most up to date information about treatment of Toenail fungus via laser, see our Pinpointe nail fungus laser information sheet which includes cost information.