Toenail fungus can be embarrassing. The thick, yellow, and crusty nail can make you self-conscious about exposing your feet. But nail fungus isn’t only a cosmetic condition. Onychomycosis, or toenail fungus, changes the appearance and health of your nails and can lead to further infections that can spread to other areas of the body.
If you’re one of the 20% of Americans struggling with nail fungus, here’s what you need to know!
What exactly is nail fungus?
Your nails are made of two types of keratin, a protein your body naturally produces. Unfortunately, the fungi that usually cause onychomycosis, dermatophytes, love nail keratin!
Dermatophytes use the keratin in your nails to grow and multiply. By consuming the keratin in your nails by breaking it down, creating keratin debris — a crumbly residue that becomes part of the toenail fungus.
These fungi thrive in warm, moist environments like sweaty socks and shoes, locker rooms, saunas, and public showers, and because onychomycosis is highly contagious, it’s easy to pick up. Symptoms include nails that become:
Nail fungus can affect one nail, or it can spread to multiple nails. It’s also possible for it to travel to your fingernails. People with certain health conditions, like psoriasis, a weakened immune system, diabetes, or circulation problems, develop nail fungal infections more frequently.
Can I prevent nail fungal infections?
There’s no way to guard 100% against nail fungus, but there are preventive measures you can take to reduce your risk of getting a fungal infection. These preventive steps include:
1. Not going barefoot in public places where dermatophytes thrive (locker rooms, pools, etc.)
2. Keep your feet clean and wash away sweat
3. Be sure to dry your feet thoroughly and change your socks throughout the day if you have sweaty feet
4. Keep your nails trimmed short and straight
5. Choose breathable footwear made from natural materials
6. Avoid wearing tight footwear so your feet can breathe
Dermatophytes love moist, warm places, so stay aware and keep your feet to yourself as much as possible — especially in public bathrooms, pools, locker rooms, and hot yoga studios where fungi thrive.
Can I treat nail fungus at home?
If you suspect you have toenail fungus, make an appointment with a podiatrist — sooner rather than later! Nail fungal infections are notoriously difficult to treat, and the fungus only spreads with time. Early treatment means faster, more effective treatment.
Treatment often begins with topical medications, but if the topical treatment isn’t effective, Dr. Taub may prescribe prescription-strength topical creams or oral antifungal medications.
Another effective treatment to get at the root of toenail fungus: the Fotona ClearSteps™ laser treatment system. With Fotona ClearSteps, the pulsed-dye laser travels through your toenail to kill the fungus without damaging your nail or surrounding skin.
You may need additional sessions to fully eliminate the fungus. After your treatments with Fotona ClearSteps finish and the fungus is dead, your nail clears away the damaged nail by growing new nail keratin.
If keratin debris crusts your nail, Dr. Taub may remove it to improve the appearance of your nails. In severe toenail fungus cases, she may recommend toenail surgery to remove the infected nail so she can treat the nail bed directly.