Technically called “onychomycosis”, fungal infection of the nail plate (the hard outer nail) or nail bed (that lies under the hard nail) will most often appear as yellowish, white, black or green discolouration of the nail. The infected nail may also appear thickened or brittle. In severe cases, from long-term infection (where all the tissues of the nail have been infected), the infected nail may break up and fall off.
A number of different types of fungus can cause onychomycosis including dermatophytes and Fusarium. Risk factors include athlete's foot, other nail diseases, exposure to someone with the condition, peripheral vascular disease, and poor immune function. The diagnosis is generally suspected based on the appearance and confirmed by laboratory testing.
Modern treatments made surgery a last resort. “Before we had these 21st century medications, we didn’t have a good choice in how to deal with toenail fungus,” said Dr. Hinkes. “Oftentimes patients would come in, and out of frustration and lack of any real significant clinical cure with medication, they would ask for their nails to be permanently removed.”
Topical agents such as amorolfine (Loceryl 5% nail lacquer; applied once or twice a week) and ciclopirox (Penlac 8% nail lacquer; applied daily) are usually prescribed for mild forms of the disease, but the treatment periods are long and their efficacy is somewhat limited due to poor nail plate penetration. These medications kill fungi by interfering with their cell membranes, which leads to their death.
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.
Many podiatrists now consider this an effective treatment, but because it’s new, there’s not enough concrete data to compare with other treatments. Dr. Hinkes raises another concern: “A clinical cure and a mycological cure are two different things. With the clinical cure, you look at the nail and it looks fine. It’s pink and shiny and smooth and it looks great. But if you sample the nail, you might find that there’s mold or fungus there, so it does not have what we call a mycological cure—mycology is the study of fungi.
Ultra-high heels force the feet into a position that puts stress on the ball of the foot. At this critical joint, the long metatarsal bones meet the pea-shaped sesamoid bones, and the toe bones (phalanges). Too much pressure can inflame these bones or the nerves that surround them. Chronic stress to the foot bones can even lead to hairline fractures.
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Many individuals with athlete's foot have no symptoms at all and do not even know they have an infection. Many may think they simply have dry skin on the soles of their feet. Common symptoms of athlete's foot typically include various degrees of itching, stinging, and burning. The skin may frequently peel, and in particularly severe cases, there may be some cracking, fissuring, pain, and itching in the toe webs. Occasionally, athlete's foot can blister.
What you need to know about fungal infections Some fungi occur naturally in the body, and they can be helpful or harmful. An infection occurs when an invasive fungus becomes too much for the immune system to handle. We describe the most common types, including yeast infection, jock itch, and ringworm. Here, learn about risk factors and the range of treatments. Read now