Fungus can infect the skin and nails of your feet. A fungal infection of the skin is also known as Athlete’s Foot, which causes itching, burning, and flaking. This infection can spread to the toenails if it’s not treated. Both types of foot fungus are extremely contagious, both in your own body as well as to other people through contact. Therefore, it’s essential to treat the infection and prevent its recurrence.
Multiple fungi species can infect the nail. Fungus grows well in warm, moist environments such as showers. Fungus infection is one of the few foot problems that affect more men than women, perhaps because more men walk barefoot in locker rooms. Age is a factor, too. Half the sufferers are people older than 70. Other risk factors include having certain medical conditions such as diabetes, vascular insufficiency and malnutrition.
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Not all cases of OM require treatment with medication but if your doctor has confirmed you have OM and require treatment, they may prescribe an oral antifungal medication (terbinafine, itraconazole*) based on the type of fungus causing the infection. If you are unable to take oral antifungals or have a mild-to-moderate case of OM, your doctor may opt for a topical therapy (ciclopirox, efinaconazole*) that is applied to the affected nail(s) directly.
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.
Green nails can be caused by Pseudomonas bacteria, which grow under a nail that has partially separated from the nail bed. This infection may cause a foul odor of the nails. The treatment is to trim the nail short every four weeks, don't clean it, polish if you want to hide the color, and wait two to three months. It is also advised to avoid soaking the nail in any sort of water (even if inside gloves) and to thoroughly dry the nail after bathing. If the problem continues, there are prescription treatments that your doctor may try.
Globally, fungal infections affect about 15% of the population and affects one out of five adults. Athlete's foot is common in individuals who wear unventilated (occlusive) footwear, such as rubber boots or vinyl shoes. Countries and regions where going barefoot is more common experience much lower rates of athlete's foot than do populations which habitually wear shoes; as a result, the disease has been called "a penalty of civilization". Studies have demonstrated that men are infected 2–4 times more often than women.
Other risk factors include perspiring heavily, being in a humid or moist environment, psoriasis, wearing socks and shoes that hinder ventilation and do not absorb perspiration, going barefoot in damp public places such as swimming pools, gyms and shower rooms, having athlete's foot (tinea pedis), minor skin or nail injury, damaged nail, or other infection, and having diabetes, circulation problems, which may also lead to lower peripheral temperatures on hands and feet, or a weakened immune system.
Oral medications include terbinafine (76% effective), itraconazole (60% effective) and fluconazole (48% effective). They share characteristics that enhance their effectiveness: prompt penetration of the nail and nail bed, and persistence in the nail for months after discontinuation of therapy. Ketoconazole by mouth is not recommended due to side effects. Oral terbinafine is better tolerated than itraconazole. For superficial white onychomycosis, systemic rather than topical antifungal therapy is advised.
Yeast onychomycosis: This type is caused by a yeast called Candida and not by the Trichophyton fungus named above. It is more common in fingernails and is a common cause of fungal fingernails. Patients may have associated paronychia (infection of the cuticle). Candida can cause yellow, brown, white, or thickened nails. Some people who have this infection also have yeast in their mouth or have a chronic paronychia (see above) that is also infected with yeast.
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 newer drugs are unlikely to cause any liver problems in patients without known liver disease. Blood tests are not needed for once-weekly treatment with fluconazole (Diflucan); however, people taking longer courses often have their liver function tested before starting the medicine and then retested during the course of treatment. It is important to notify the doctor of all side effects while on the medication. You should tell your doctor of all current medications to prevent potential serious drug interactions.
Although treatment is usually sought for cosmetic reasons, nail fungus can be serious and should be treated. For example, if it is a severe infection, it can cause permanent damage to your nails. The infection can also spread beyond your nails, especially if you are in a high risk group, such as people with diabetes or impaired immune systems. High-risk people can develop cellulitis, a skin tissue infection, if toe fungus isn't treated.
If you love the look of ballet flats, over-the-counter inserts (shown here) may help prevent mild foot pain. Heel pads can provide extra cushioning for achy heels. And custom orthotics can ease a whole range of foot pains and problems. Podiatrists prescribe these inserts to provide arch support and reduce pressure on sensitive areas. Prescription orthotics can be pricey, but are sometimes covered by insurance.
Since some people are simply more prone to fungal infections, they are also prone to repeated infection. Preventive measures include keeping your feet clean and dry, avoiding prolonged moist environments, using socks in airport security lines, removing shoes, and allowing the feet skin to "breathe," avoiding walking barefoot, especially in public areas like swimming pools and gyms, avoiding contact with known infected people, and avoiding soaking and contaminated tool usage at nail salons. Weekly applications of a topical antifungal foot cream or sprinkling of antifungal foot powder (Zeasorb Foot Powder) into shoes may also be helpful.
One of the best remedies for toenail fungus, apple cider vinegar can be used topically, internally, or both. Mix one part ACV and one part Epsom salts with six parts hot water. Let the water cool so that it is still warm to the touch, but not so hot as to be damaging to your skin. Soak feet up to twice daily for at least thirty minutes to kill fungus. Mix two tablespoons of organic apple cider vinegar with eight ounces of warm water and add a teaspoon of honey to sweeten the beverage.
Because fungal spores can remain viable for months in these environments, frequent exposure can increase the risk of infection (and re-infection). Fungal spores can be picked up in many ways – such as wearing shoes that harbour the organism, by walking barefoot in areas where the fungus is prevalent (especially public showers and locker rooms), by wearing wet shoes or socks for long periods, through previous injury to the toe or toenail that opens a path for easy entry of the fungus, or by wearing improperly-fitting shoes.
Chronic nail trauma, such as repeatedly starting and stopping, kicking, and other athletic endeavors, can cause damage to the nails that can look a lot like fungal nails. This sort of repetitive trauma can also occur with certain types of employment or wearing tight-fitting shoes. Some traumas may cause permanent changes that may mimic the appearance of fungal nails.
Because athlete's foot may itch, it may also elicit the scratch reflex, causing the host to scratch the infected area before they realize it. Scratching can further damage the skin and worsen the condition by allowing the fungus to more easily spread and thrive. The itching sensation associated with athlete's foot can be so severe that it may cause hosts to scratch vigorously enough to inflict excoriations (open wounds), which are susceptible to bacterial infection. Further scratching may remove scabs, inhibiting the healing process.
Modern medicine addresses toenail fungus with topical treatments, oral anti-fungal medicine, and in some cases surgical removal of the nail. Side effects of these medications may possibly include trouble breathing, swelling of the mouth or face, hives, rashes, blisters, headaches, dizziness, nausea, loss of appetite, liver damage, weight gain, fatigue, heart problems, fever, diarrhea, and more pain – all just to get rid of fungus on your toenails.
When athlete's foot fungus or infested skin particles spread to one's environment (such as to clothes, shoes, bathroom, etc.) whether through scratching, falling, or rubbing off, not only can they infect other people, they can also reinfect (or further infect) the host they came from. For example, infected feet infest one's socks and shoes which further expose the feet to the fungus and its spores when worn again.
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.
*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For information on a given medication, check our Drug Information database. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
For some people, a fungal infection of the nails can be difficult to cure and the first round of medication might not work. The nail infection can’t be considered cured until a new nail that’s free from infection has grown in. Although this indicates that the nail is no longer infected, it’s possible for the fungal infection to return. In severe cases, there may be permanent damage to your nail, and it may have to be removed.