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Family Foot & Ankle

Fungal Nail Conditions Made Easy

Some fungus is not that simple to talk about.

Did you know that, according to Ohio State University, there are more than 2,000 kinds of wild mushrooms in our region?

Some go great on a pizza, some will send you to the hospital, and you better believe we’re not even going to try to tell you which are which. That’s not our department.

What is our department is the types of fungus that infect toenails, turning them thick, discolored, and brittle. We find classifying them a bit easier (all of them are bad), and we hopefully don’t have to worry about anyone trying to eat them.

If you have questions about fungal toenails, we have plenty of answers. Where would you like to start?


What causes fungal toenails?

Several different types of fungus can be responsible for a toenail infection. The most common type is known as dermatophytes, but molds and yeasts can also be a culprit.

Our nails and skin have a duty to keep foreign invaders such as these out, and most of the time they do a good job of it. However, when there are cracks and small cuts, fungus can slip in and take ahold.

And yes, we do include the skin. The same fungus that causes athlete’s foot can also cause a fungal nail infection. The fungus can make its way from the skin around the nail and into the nail bed itself.

What are the signs of fungal toenails?

Signs of an infection that has taken a firm hold are obvious. Nails may be:

  • Discolored, usually white, yellow, or brown

  • Thickened

  • Brittle or crumbly

  • Distorted, sometimes lifting the nail upward

  • Possessing a foul odor

When you see these signs, however, the infection has already set up shop pretty solidly. Spotting an infection in its early stages is more difficult, but definitely worth it. The sooner an infection is identified and treatment started, the faster and more effective recovery will be!

So what should you be looking for? Earliest signs of a fungal nail infection tend to be small white spots or streaks. It’s easy to pass these off as small injuries to the nail, so they tend to be overlooked. If you don’t remember injuring your nails, your nails don’t hurt, and those odd marks remain after a few days, it’s time to give us a call.

Who should worry about getting fungal nails?

Anyone who has toenails can conceivable catch a fungus, but some people do have a higher risk than others. Risk factors include:

  • Age. This is due to slower growing nails, and the fact you have just been exposed to more fungi over time.

  • Minor injuries or conditions. Nicks or cuts on the feet, or a skin condition such as psoriasis, can provide openings fungus needs to infiltrate. Check your feet and keep injuries covered when possible.

  • Heavy sweating (hyperhidrosis). Fungus tends to thrive in warm, damp places. Excessive sweating in the feet adds to that ideal climate, especially when feet are inside shoes all day.

  • Being barefoot in public. The riskiest areas are showers, locker rooms, and public pools, where moisture and warmth are in abundance. Opt for shower shoes when you can to help protect your feet.

  • Poor circulation or weakened immune system. Your body fights fungus like it does an infection, and these factors reduce the chances of victory.

If I have fungal nails, should I worry about spreading it?

The spread of toenail fungus is more likely to happen through direct contact. Unless you share your socks and shoes with your family (and you should never wear someone else’s footwear like that), risks of contraction are pretty low.

How do you treat toenail fungus?

A fungal infection is often treated with topical and/or oral antifungal medications. The exact course of treatment will depend on certain factors such as the severity of the infection and the thickness of your nails.

Oral medications can have side effects, so a review of your medical history will be made before prescribing it.

How long does it take to treat toenail fungus?

As for the infection itself, a few weeks to a few months of treatment are often necessary to take care of the fungus completely. The more time the fungus has had to take root in a nail, the more stubborn it tends to be.

Even when a nail is fungus free, however, that does not mean the damage caused to the nail instantly vanishes. A new, clear nail will have to grow out to replace what has been damaged, and that does not happen quickly. You can expect at least several months beyond the fungal eradication to see no more signs that the infection ever happened.

With that being the case, the best time to start treatment for a fungal infection is as soon as possible! Waiting until that vacation you want to go on comes near is not going to be very effective if you plan on showing off clear nails at the beach.

If you have a suspected fungal toenail infection, don’t sit by on it. Let us help you get to the root of the problem and start taking care of it!

Our offices in Finneytown, Bridgetown, Eastgate, Fairfield, Hamilton, and Florence are ready to help you. Call us at (513) 728-4800 to schedule an appointment. If you have questions or would prefer to request an appointment via email, just fill out our online contact form and a member of our staff will get back to you.

Dr. Cynthia Miller
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Dr. Cynthia Miller is a board certified podiatrist who has been established in the Cincinnati area since 2004.
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