Embarrassing and painful, toe fungus is unlikely to cause serious issues for healthy people, but it can be a serious nuisance.
These are the facts about this condition and steps you can take to treat and prevent nail fungus.
Facts About Toe Fungus
1. Know the causes. Nail infections can be caused by a variety of fungi, yeasts and molds. The most common of these are a group of fungi called dermatophytes that affect the nails, skin and hair. They’re spread by direct contact with other people or environmental surfaces.
2. Spot common culprits. Warm and moist conditions like locker rooms create a breeding ground for dermatophytes. Tight shoes and unsterilized pedicure equipment may also trigger infections.
3. Recognize the symptoms. Your nails may change color and grow thicker. In more serious cases, they may start to fall apart and separate from the skin. You could also experience discomfort or pain when you wear shoes or put pressure on your feet.
4. Calculate your risk factors. Nail infections are more common among the elderly and athletes. Hot, humid conditions that keep feet sweaty can allow a fungus to develop anytime. Take special care if you have a weakened immune system or diabetes.
Treatments for Toe Fungus
1. See your doctor. It’s important to call your doctor if you experience pain or inflammation, run a fever or notice any discharge. These could be signs of bacterial infection. Talk with your doctor about any nail that changes in appearance. They may refer you to a podiatrist or dermatologist if needed.
2. Get tested. Your doctor will ask you about your medical history and examine your feet. They may remove a small fragment of your nail for a biopsy or perform a simple test called a KOH (potassium hydroxide) preparation.
3. Apply topical products. Over the counter creams and lotions may be all you need or your doctor may prescribe stronger formulas. Follow the instructions which often suggest applying them to the infected nail and surrounding skin before you go to bed.
4. Take oral medications. Oral treatments are often more effective but they can be expensive and have significant side effects. Discuss any adverse reactions with your doctor and check your insurance coverage. You may need to continue medication for a year or more.
5. Nail removal is a possibility in severe cases. Nail removal is rarely called for. If it’s necessary in your case, ask about procedures that dissolve the nail without requiring surgery.
Ways to Prevent Toe Fungus
1. Keep your feet covered at the gym and pool. Wear flip flops when you’re walking around the locker room or pool. They give you more protection than going barefoot.
2. Change your footwear. Ensure your shoes fit properly with room around your toes. Repeated injuries from squeezing your toes into tight shoes can cause infections. Get at least two pairs of sports shoes so you can give them a day off to dry fully between workouts.
3. Sterilize pedicure equipment. Check that your salon sterilizes all equipment. Trim toenails actually help prevent injuries but skip the polish that can seal in fungus.
4. Wear your own socks. Let every family member wear their own socks. Sharing can spread infections. While you’re at it, look for styles that are all cotton and change them whenever they’re damp.
5. Dry your feet carefully. Give your feet an extra pat down after the shower. Dust them with powder to keep them dry all day and overnight.
Take care of your feet so you can avoid getting a toe fungus and spreading it to other people. If you experience any warning signs like pain or redness, see your doctor. The good news is that most cases of nail fungus will clear up with proper treatment.