Fungal Nail Infections

An infection with nail fungus can be very embarrassing as well as lead to permanent damage of the nail or nail bed. It can affect fingernails but is more common in toenails. Most infections are caused by the same fungus that causes athlete’s foot. These organisms thrive in warm, moist places such as showers or swimming pools and invade the nail through small cuts in the skin around the nail or separations in the nail bed.

Symptoms

Symptoms of a fungal nail infection may include:

  • Nails that turn yellow or white
  • Thickening of the nail
  • Nails that crumble and split
  • Separation of the nail from the nail bed

Diagnosis and Treatment

Dermatologist can usually diagnose nail fungus by examining the nails. Because other conditions, such as psoriasis, can mimic fungal nail infections, your doctor may have your nail clippings tested to confirm the diagnosis.

Over-the-counter medications for nail fungus are rarely strong enough to be effective. Depending on the type and severity of the nail infection, your dermatologist may recommend the following treatment options:

  • Oral anti-fungal medications may be prescribed for up to 12 weeks. These medications are often necessary to treat toenail fungus because topical medications don’t penetrate the toenail well. Improvement in the appearance of the nail may take several months or more due to the toenails’ slow growth rate. Because of potential side effects, including liver damage, blood tests before and during treatment may be recommended.
  • Topical prescription anti-fungal medications are less effective than oral anti-fungals, but may recommended to patients for whom the potential side effects of oral medications would be risky. Topical medications are sometimes used in combination with oral medications to improve results. Patients may need to use topical anti-fungals for a year or more to see significant improvement.

Your dermatologist may also prescribe a special anti-fungal nail lacquer that is applied like nail polish.

Prevention

The following steps may help prevent fungal nail infections:

  • Wash your hands and feet regularly and keep your nails short, dry and clean.
  • Wear socks that absorb sweat and change socks when they become damp.
  • Choose shoes that allow air circulation around the feet, such as sandals or open-toe shoes.
  • Use an anti-fungal spray or powder on the feet and inside shoes.
  • Don’t trim or pick at the skin around your nails.
  • Choose a reputable nail salon that sterilizes all instruments or bring your own nail care tools.
  • Don’t use nail polish or artificial nails, which can trap moisture and worsen the infection.
  • Wash your hands after touching an infected nail to prevent spreading the infection.

No one has to live with ugly, embarrassing nail fungus because dermatologists like the experts at Dermatology and Skin Surgery have effective treatment options to help nails become healthy and attractive again.