Fungal infection of the nails

Just as you’re about to have your nails painted a trendy new colour, your beauty therapist notices something: ”Perhaps you should let your doctor take a look at your nails,” she says. “I think you might have a fungal infection.”

What is causing the infection in my nails?

The most common cause is a fungal infection called onychomycosis – it affects finger and toenails, and the fungi causing infections in nails feed on a protein in hair and nails, called keratin.

Toenails are affected more because of walking barefoot in change-rooms and other environments where there’s a high risk of Athlete’s foot – even ill-fitting shoes can be a cause.

Fingernails become infected if exposed the following risks:

  • prolonged exposure to water
  • frequent or prolonged wearing of plastic gloves
  • certain professions: podiatrists, beauty therapists, hair stylists, dishwashers, laundry workers
  • nail trauma during activities such as gardening
  • smoking

Symptoms of fungal nail infection

Taking a closer look, how might you know if you have a fungal infection of your nails? Remember, symptoms may vary depending on which fungus is causing the infection.

  • nails may appear thickened
  • discolouration of the nail/s
  • brittle nails that crumble
  • nails that separate from the nail-bed
  • a painful nail in association with an ingrown toenail

Am I at risk?

Can anyone develop a fungal nail infection, or are some people at greater risk? Whilst fungal infections of the nails are very common, certain things can definitely increase your risk:

  • old age
  • diabetes
  • weakened immune system
  • poor blood circulation
  • genetic factors
  • participation in certain sports

Treating nail infections

Here are some treatments to restore your nails to health. It’s important to stick to the treatment for the full course, and talk to your doctor to make sure that the medication doesn’t react to anything else you may be using. Treatment can include:

  • filing, trimming of nails by a podiatrist
  • removal of part of the nail, or the entire nail (if ingrown, or severe infection)
  • anti-fungal nail lacquers
  • anti-fungal tablets or capsules, taken orally
Read  Can beauty products cause cancer?

Prevention will save you months of discomfort and treatment

The best thing you can do is try to prevent the infection in the first place, or prevent it from recurring once it’s been treated! Avoid walking around barefoot in public areas (bathrooms, changing rooms, gyms, hotel rooms, public bathing pools):  rather wear slippers or flip-flops. Also, change your shoes every second day to allow they to dry out. Most important: wash and dry your feet thoroughly every day.

Here are some more prevention tips to keep your nails in the pink

  1. choose leather shoes, 100% cotton socks
  2. wear shoes that fit properly
  3. wear clean dry socks every day, wash them at 60 C
  4. sprinkle an anti-fungal powder inside your socks and shoes every day to prevent fungal spores from growing
  5. don’t share your footwear with other people
  6. disinfect your shower with a bleach-based cleaning product
  7. replace your shoes with new ones after achieving a cure, to prevent a recurrence
  8. avoid using the same nail scissors or clippers on infected and uninfected nails, and after achieving a cure
  9. treat Athlete’s foot promptly, to reduce the risk of the infection spreading to one’s toenails (which takes much longer to treat)
  10. treat family members and household contacts who become infected, to prevent a recurrence