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Signs of Toenail Fungus

Signs of Toenail Fungus

This HealthHearty article will help you identify toenail fungus, as it describes the symptoms of fungal infection in toenails. Uncontrolled infection can lead to severe pain, and the person may not be able to walk or stand.
Ningthoujam Sandhyarani
Toenail fungus or onychomycosis is an infection of the toenails by a group of fungi called dermatophytes. These fungi require keratin (a fibrous scleroprotein that occurs in the outer layer of the skin, hair, nails, etc.) for growth. When the infection is limited to the nail surface, it is called 'white superficial onychomycosis', and when it affects both the nail and the skin underneath the nail, it is called 'distal subungual onychomycosis.' Distal subungual onychomycosis is the most common type. It is difficult to treat, and can exist as a lifelong infection.
Fungal infection can also be seen in the fingernails. However, toes are more likely to get infected as the fungus thrives well in dark and damp environment. Toenail fungus is contagious, and can be transmitted from one infected toe to another, and also to other parts of the body. It can spread by direct contact from other people, animals, and soil, as well as indirectly from an inanimate object such as a towel, clothing, dishes, books, or toys etc. Some people are more susceptible to toenail fungus than others. Some of the causes of toenail fungus include poor hygiene of the nails, high humidity and heat in the environment, prolonged use of tight-fitting shoes, abnormal pH of the skin, and direct contact with a person infected with dermatophytes.
Toenail Fungus Symptoms

Severe toenail infections can cause pain and discomfort. As toenails grow more slowly than fingernails, fungal toenail infections have more time to grow and spread. The fungus can stay on your body for a longer time.
Toenail fungus infection usually starts at the far end of the toenails, which later grows inward if not treated. In general, the big and little toe are more susceptible to such an infection as compared to other nails.
The first sign of toenail fungus is the changed color of the nail. In the initial stages of infection, there may be presence of small white or yellow patches underneath the nails. As the infection progresses, the overall color of the infected toenail changes to dull yellow, brown, or sometimes, black.
White superficial onychomycosis is relatively less common. In this type of infection, the nail surface turns white in color (as white spots or streaks develop on the surface). Worsening of the infection results in dry, soft, and powdery nail. The nail may turn brown or gray, but it doesn't separate from the skin.
In distal subungual onychomycosis, there can be a change in the texture of the infected nail and the growth may get hampered. The infected toenail may becomes thicker, chalky, and brittle. Sometimes, it becomes so thick that it cannot be easily cut. It may itself break and separate from the skin.
There can be shedding of the nail or crumbling of the edges. In severe case, the infection can lead to complete loss of the nail.
Underneath the infected toenail, one can find nail fragments and bits of skin that looks like dirt. The accumulation of debris causes the nail to swell. It can be cleaned only if proper treatment is done.
Another noticeable sign of toenail fungus is foul smell from underneath the infected nails.
The growth of toenail fungus can disturb a person's day-to-day activities. There may be difficulty in wearing shoes, and also in walking. Toenail fungus is rare among children, and is commonly seen among old people. It can be diagnosed by a qualified physician or a podiatrist.
Home remedies along with oral and topical medication can help relieve the symptoms of fungal infection. It is always better to take proper care of your nails in order to avoid dermatophyte infections. Some of the tips on nail care and foot care are wearing clean socks (cotton socks, if available) and breathable shoes, and keeping the nails dry and clean as far as possible. Care should be taken while going to public gyms and swimming pools, as chances of getting infected from dermatophytes are high in these areas. It is advisable to wear slippers or any footwear before entering such public areas.