Onychomycosis (toenail fungus) is an infection of the nail and sometimes surrounding tissue. It is extremely common with 20 percent of the general population and 75 percent of people over 60 years old affected. Frequently the problem causes cosmetic concerns, but many patients also experience pain. Sometimes toenail fungus can allow more serious infections to develop.
Candida albicans is a common yeast that grows inside the human body. In healthy people, other bacteria and immune cells keep this yeast under control so it doesn’t cause any problems, but in some people candida can become overgrown and cause infections in various areas. One of the ways candida shows up is through the skin where it can cause noticeable reactions or infections. Other ways are on the mouth, vagina and anus.
The ease with which the fungus spreads to other areas of the body (on one's fingers) poses another complication. When the fungus is spread to other parts of the body, it can easily be spread back to the feet after the feet have been treated. And because the condition is called something else in each place it takes hold (e.g., tinea corporis (ringworm) or tinea cruris (jock itch), persons infected may not be aware it is the same disease.
High heeled shoes push too much body weight toward the toes and then squeeze them together. Over time, the result can be hammertoe (early stage, lower right), abnormal bends in the toe joints that can gradually become rigid. Surgery is sometimes needed to relieve the pain of severe hammertoe. Crowding can cause other toe deformities, along with continuous shoe friction, leading to painful corns and calluses.
The definition of over-the-counter (OTC) products means that they are available by ordinary retail purchase, not requiring a prescription or a license. Although there are few OTC medications aimed to treat fungal nails, many of these medications have not been tested and therefore are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of onychomycosis. Most OTC agents are aimed at treating fungal infection of the skin rather than the nail. Some medications list undecylenic acid and/or propylene glycol as main ingredients. These ingredients inhibit fungal growth; however, they may not adequately penetrate the nail to be effective in treating fungal nails.
Medical treatment of onychomycosis is suggested in patients who are experiencing pain and discomfort due to the nail changes. Patients with higher risk factors for infections such as diabetes and a previous history of cellulitis (infection of the soft tissue) near the affected nails may also benefit from treatment. Poor cosmetic appearance is another reason for medical treatment.
Recognize the signs. Before you can treat toenail fungus, you need to know what to look for. Nail fungus does not necessarily have consistent symptoms. The most common sign that you have nail fungus is tenderness or pain in the nail. Signs of a fungal infection include changes in your nail, such as color changes. The nail will usually get yellow or white streaks on the side of the nail. There is usually due to a buildup of debris under or around the nail, a crumbling and thickening of the outside edges of the nail, a loosening or lifting up of the nail, and nail brittleness.
Medications in tablet form are much more effective at fighting nail fungus than topical treatments are, but they aren’t guaranteed to work and also have more side effects, long treatment durations and possible interactions. (7) Another downside is that they are like putting a Band-Aid on the problem — they’re not addressing why the fungus developed in the first place.
Infected nails are usually thicker than normal and could be warped or oddly shaped. They can break easily. Nails with fungus might look yellow. Sometimes a white dot shows up on the nail and then gets bigger. When fungus builds up under your nail, it can loosen and even separate the nail from the bed. The fungus can also spread to the skin around your nail.