Athlete’s foot appears as a scaly red rash on the bottoms or sides of the feet often accompanied by itching, dry or cracked skin, stinging, and odor. You can also have moist, raw skin between your toes. Though athlete’s foot is fairly easy to treat with over-the-counter anti-fungal creams or sprays, this foot fungus is quite contagious and may easily spread to your toenails.
Physical exam alone has been shown to be an unreliable method of diagnosing fungal nails. There are many conditions that can make nails look damaged, so even doctors have a difficult time. In fact, studies have found that only about 50% of cases of abnormal nail appearance were caused by fungus. Therefore, laboratory testing is almost always indicated. Some insurance companies may even ask for a laboratory test confirmation of the diagnosis in order for antifungal medicine to be covered. A nail sample is obtained either by clipping the toenail or by drilling a hole in the nail. That piece of nail is sent to a lab where it can by stained, cultured, or tested by PCR (to identify the genetic material of the organisms) to identify the presence of fungus. Staining and culturing can take up to six weeks to get a result, but PCR to identify the fungal genetic material, if available, can be done in about one day. However, this test is not widely used due to its high cost. If a negative biopsy result is accompanied by high clinical suspicion, such as nails that are ragged, discolored, thickened, and crumbly, it warrants a repeat test due to the prevalence of false-negative results in these tests.
Caprylic acid, one of the medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil, has the ability to penetrate the durable cell wall of candida and other fungi. Without its protective coating the cells of the fungus dissolve, effectively destroying the infection. Apply a thin layer of coconut oil to infected areas and let it soak in for at least fifteen minutes. Coconut oil is great for skin health, so there is no limit to how often you can use this treatment. Just make sure you aren’t allergic to coconuts before applying this product to sensitive tissue.
Fungal infection occurs when the organism invades through an opening in the nail, meaning fungi will usually attack nails that are already damaged. After infection occurs, the growth of the fungi leads to mild inflammation, which causes the nail to thicken and the nail plate to detach from the nail bed. The space underneath the nail can then serve as a reservoir for bacteria and moulds, which can cause the nail to become discoloured.
No one knows where a specific person catches the fungus, as it is everywhere. However, since the fungus does thrive in warm moist areas (like sweaty feet), there are certain areas one should avoid or use with caution. Shower floors, locker rooms, and swimming pools are suspected of being sources of the fungus, although there are no studies proving this fact. Nail polish and acrylic nails also make the nail less "breathable" and make the nail more susceptible to fungal infection. Fungi are everywhere -- in the air, the dust, and the soil. Hygienic measures such as spraying socks and footgear sound sensible, and perhaps these measures can even help a little bit. However, avoiding tight, nonbreathing shoes or steering clear of athletic facility floors may very well be the best prevention available. Daily washing of the feet and drying between the toes can help to prevent nail fungus. The fungi carried on the coats of pets, like cats and dogs, don't often cause nail fungus. Wearing white socks does not help.
The first step is to take a history of the problem,” said Mark Hinkes, DPM, CEO of HappyFeet LLC, and a podiatrist with 40 years experience. “In other words, I want to know how long have you had this and what previous treatment you’ve had.” A podiatrist needs to understand the extent of the problem, and also any other medical factors which may influence their choice of treatment.
Fungal nails (onychomycosis) may be caused by many species of fungi, but the most common is Trichophyton rubrum. Distal subungal onychomycosis starts as a discolored area at the nail's corner and slowly spread toward the cuticle. In proximal subungal onychomycosis, the infection starts at the cuticle and spreads toward the nail tip. Yeast onychomycosis is caused by Candida and may be the most common cause of fungal fingernail.
Whitish or yellowish nails can occur due to onycholysis. This means separation of the nail from the nail bed. The color you see is air beneath the nail. The treatment is to trim the nail short, don't clean under it, polish if you want to hide the color, and wait two to three months. Persistent onycholysis can make the nails susceptible to fungal infection.
One of the more interesting remedies for toenail fungus is organic cornmeal. Corn naturally hosts a form of fungus that is harmless to the human body but deadly to Candida – the most common fungal parasite that causes infections in people. In a container big enough to fit your foot (or both feet if needed), mix one cup of cornmeal and about two quarts of water. Allow the cornmeal to soak in the water for at least one hour then submerge the infected foot (or feet) in the mixture for a half hour or more. While the frequency of use for this remedy is up for debate, sources have reported success with treatment performed as seldom as once per week. Others say to perform it daily. Because cornmeal is totally harmless to skin and nails, realistically the treatment can be repeated as often as you like.
Besides being exposed to any of the modes of transmission presented above, there are additional risk factors that increase one's chance of contracting athlete's foot. Persons who have had athlete's foot before are more likely to become infected than those who have not. Adults are more likely to catch athlete's foot than children. Men have a higher chance of getting athlete's foot than women. People with diabetes or weakened immune systems are more susceptible to the disease. HIV/AIDS hampers the immune system and increases the risk of acquiring athlete's foot. Hyperhidrosis (abnormally increased sweating) increases the risk of infection and makes treatment more difficult.