Mycotic, or fungal, nail infections are very common. Although they can occur on the fingernails, they are more commonly found on the toenails, because fungus grows more readily in warm, dark, moist areas like enclosed shoes. Infected nails appear discolored, thick and brittle and may at times be painful. Mycotic nail infections most frequently appear in adults.
Risk Factors for Mycotic Nail Infections
Risk factors for developing fungal infections of the toenails include:
- Having athlete's foot
- Sharing socks, shoes, or other personal belongings
- Walking barefoot at public pools, gyms or shower rooms
- Having a tendency to sweat excessively
- Getting manicures or pedicures
- Having deformed or diseased nails
- Wearing closed footwear
- Having a damaged immune system
It is impossible to avoid contact with fungal organisms since they are found almost everywhere. Keeping the feet clean and dry, wearing clean socks and well-fitted shoes, and taking care of any injuries promptly can all lessen the risk of developing a mycotic nail infection.
Symptoms of Mycotic Nail Infections
Nails infected by fungus appear abnormal in shape and texture. They may be brittle or crumbly and there may be debris trapped under them. Mycotic nails are lusterless, thick and discolored, usually appearing yellow or brown. They may separate from the nail bed, loosening or lifting from their normal position.
Diagnosis of Mycotic Nail Infections
Although observation is usually sufficient to provide a diagnosis of mycotic nail infection, confirmation can be made by obtaining a laboratory culture of nail scrapings. Results of such a culture may take a few weeks to be reported.
Treatment of Mycotic Nail Infections
Mycotic nail infections are notoriously resistant to treatment. Over-the-counter ointments are likely to be ineffective in combating the fungus, although prescription ointments may promote healing and keep the infection from spreading. There are a number of oral medications that can be administered to treat fungal nail infections, but these must be taken for 2 to 3 months. The oral medications can also have serious side effects, including possible liver damage, so patients taking them must undergo regular testing.
Laser treatments are often successful in treating mycotic nail infections and have no damaging side effects. If none of these remedies are effective in eliminating a mycotic infection, it will be necessary for part or all of the affected nails to be removed. Unfortunately, even with treatment, mycotic nail infections have a tendency to recur, so patients are advised to be conscientious in their efforts to avoid a recurrence of the problem.