Beauty isn’t about having a pretty face alone. It’s about having a pretty mind, a pretty heart, and a pretty soul. Ohh… and pretty nails!
Nail fungus, also called onychomycosis (on-i-ko-mi-KO-sis), tinea unguis or simply ringworm of the nails, is the most common nail disease and constitutes about half of all nail abnormalities. Beginning as a white or yellow spot under the tip of your finger or toenail, it may cause your nail to discolor, thicken, deform, get ragged or brittle and eventually crumble (due to loss of nail plate), as the infection goes deeper. The condition can affect one or many nails.
People with onychomycosis experience significant psycho-social problems due to the physically repulsive and abnormal appearance of the nails, particularly when fingers – which are always visible rather than toenails, are affected.
Though onychomycosis is caused by various fungi, most common being a fungus called dermatophyte, yeast and molds also can cause nail infections.
It can develop in people of any age but is more common among older adults. As the nail ages, it can become brittle and dry. The resulting cracks in the nails allow fungi to enter. Other factors — such as reduced blood circulation to the feet and a weakened immune system may also play a role.
When the fungus infects the areas in between your toes and the skin of your feet, it’s called athlete’s foot (tinea pedis or foot fungus). Toenail fungal infection can also start from athlete’s foot and eventually spread from one nail to another.
It is uncommon to get a fungal nail infection from someone else.
Apart from contracting it through unclean clipping, buffing and cutting tools used by your manicurist or pedicurist in the neighborhood beauty salon or nail parlor, other factors that can increase the risk of developing nail fungus – an infection that sometimes requires antibiotics and even surgery to correct are:
- Wearing acrylic/synthetic nails
- Wearing socks and shoes that hinder ventilation and don’t absorb perspiration
- Sweating heavily or working in a humid, moist environment
- Having an athlete’s foot
- Walking barefoot in damp communal areas, such as swimming pools, gyms, and shower rooms
- Having a minor skin or nail injury or a skin condition, such as psoriasis
- Being older, owing to reduced blood flow, more years of exposure to fungi and slower growing nails
- Having diabetes, circulation disorders or a weakened immune system
You may have nail fungus if one or more of your nails –
- has thickened
- is discolored whitish to yellow-brown
- is brittle, crumbly or ragged
- is distorted in shape
- turns dark-colored, because of debris building up under your nail
- is dull, with no luster or shine
- smells slightly foul
- separates from the nail bed, causing pain.
Although nail fungus can affect the nails of the fingers, it’s more common in toenails.
When to see a doctor?
Unattended nail fungus can become painful and may cause permanent damage to your nails and/or lead to other serious infections that spread beyond your feet in case you have a suppressed immune system due to medications, diabetes or other conditions. You must see a physician if:
- the self-care tips mentioned below do not help and the nail becomes increasingly discolored, thickened or deformed.
- you have diabetes and think you’re developing nail fungus.
Diabetes puts you at a greater risk of developing secondary bacterial skin infection (cellulitis) owning to reduced blood circulation and nerve supply in your feet. A seemingly minor injury to the feet — including a nail fungal infection — can lead to more serious complications in diabetics.
Fungal nail infections are difficult to treat. They take several weeks to months to get better. If your condition is mild and not bothering you, you may not need any treatment. If your nail fungus is painful and has caused thickened nails, self-care tips and medications might help to a certain extent but sadly, even after the treatment is over and you’ve grown back a normal nail, here comes another infection! The fact is, some people are just at risk for having to easily acquire this infection recurrently in their lifetime.
- You can try using over-the-counter antifungal nail creams and ointments but for tough cases, these treatments aren’t very effective.
- When OTC treatments don’t help, your doctor may prescribe oral antifungal medications such as terbinafine (Lamisil) or itraconazole (Sporanox) but they may cause side effects ranging from skin rashes to liver damage. In fact, oral antifungal medications are contraindicated in people with liver disease or congestive heart failure or for those taking certain medications.
- Surgery may be necessary if your nail infection is severe or extremely painful. Your doctor may suggest removing your nail. A new nail will usually grow back, though it could take up to a year to grow back completely.
- Laser treatment can be an option when no other treatment method seems to work for you. The high energy of light is used on the nail to destroy the fungus. The treatment needs to be done several times a year and is thus, quite expensive.
A gentleman visited me in December 2013 with the above-mentioned problem, which was taking his self-esteem for a downslide. Though there were no complaints of itching or pain or any discomfort, the appearance itself was revolting for him. He avoided meeting people and going out for dinners etc, even though his top-level executive profile required him to. Eating with his own hands was becoming an ordeal due to a peculiar odor emanating from them.
He was put on regular homoeopathic treatment for less than a year and this is what we achieved!
He still visits my clinic on ‘n off for other problems or accompanies his family, but never even once has he come back for the nails!