Hand with nail fungal infection

What is Nail Fungus?

Getting to the bottom of what’s under your nails

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If you’ve taken the time to seek out our website, NailFungus.co.uk, and especially if you’ve clicked around to find this particular page, you’re obviously looking for some in-depth information that can put your mind at ease.

While there is nothing particularly fun about fungus, we’ll do our best to give you the information you need while trying not to freak you out and keep you from sawing off your big toe (please don’t do this… sawing off your own toe is a 0/10 on the remedy scale).

While fungal nails can be an eyesore and vaguely embarrassing, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. This condition afflicts roughly 10% of the population and if you have it, you can probably pat yourself on the back for being more athletic than everyone else (we’ll explain why in a moment). And rest assured, it can be effectively treated in several different ways.

Definition

But before we get into all of those things, let’s start you off with the basics. To give you the textbook definition, nail fungus (also known by its impressive scientific name of onychomycosis) is a fungal infection that leads to a change in the appearance of your toenails or fingernails (there’s no difference between the two in terms of the type of infection).

This happens most often when a piece of your nail has lifted, and a fungus has taken root in the damp space between the nail and the nail bed. Fungus thrives in dark, damp places and thus can spread from a relatively small space to the entire nail. However, this is a slow process, so spotting discolouration early can be helpful in avoiding potentially permanent damage to your nails.

So stop what you’re doing, take off those fuzzy slippers you’ve got on, and check out the toe or fingernail that initially sent you on this wild googling adventure that eventually brought you here – and read up on the next section to see if you may have a fungal nail infection.

Infected fingernail
Fingernail with nail fungus infection. © Ivan Radic

Symptoms

Okay, are we all looking at our nails? All 20? Good. Here’s what we have to check for if we’re on the lookout for nail fungus (in order of seriousness):

  • Discolouration: This is the first thing to spot when a fungus is just taking root in your nail. If your nail is becoming infected, you can usually see a small white spot that has appeared on a part of your nail. If untreated, it can expand and become a darker yellow/green colour that comes to discolour the entire nail.
  • Thickness: Along with the discolouration, infected nails are thicker and carry more mass in comparison to other nails or compared to how they looked before. This symptom will set in relatively early too.
  • Distortion: While your nail becomes thicker, it can also become distorted – changing shape as the fungus becomes more prevalent under your nail. The fungus is literally pushing your nail out of place, so it will look awkward and out of place. Your nail will eventually begin rising out of the nail bed entirely due to the distortion and the spread of the fungus.
  • Crumbling: Once the fungus is sufficiently spread to the entirety of the nail bed, your nails will begin to feel brittle and then crumble or disintegrate, leaving the nail bed exposed.
  • Smell: In serious cases, there may be a slightly foul smell coming from the nail once it begins to crumble.
  • Pain: Similarly, if you are feeling acute pain from your nail, your fungal infection has become serious and you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Scared? Please don’t be! We wanted to be as descriptive as possible to help you identify what’s going on with your nails by being as specific as we could be.

Identifying the specific symptom(s) is important as it might not even be fungal infection you’re looking at – some discolouration can indicate psoriasis or a hematoma underneath the nail depending on the colour, and some thickening or distortion could simply indicate run-of-the-mill trauma to the nail. The more specific the symptoms, the better you can identify your problem.

Causes

Okay, now that we know what to look out for, let’s focus on why we may have some nail discolouration and distortion in the first place.

Nail fungus can develop in a number of different ways, but the most common is simply that a fungus has somehow found its way under your nail.

This can happen if you’re hanging around places with a high prevalence of fungi, like swimming pools, changing rooms or saunas. These are both warm and moist environments where a lot of people walk around without footwear (Naughty! You shouldn’t do that!).

The ‘warm and dark’ issue is why it is more common to have fungal nails on your toes rather than your fingers, as your toes are usually wrapped up in socks and shoes all day while your fingers are actively grasping, clacking, scratching, clicking, and poking all day long.  Not to mention…when last did you take a good look at your feet? We look at our hands all day but our feet…not so much.

Other causes of fungal nail infection

Nail fungus can also be caused by fungus already present in or on your body like athlete’s foot, jock itch, or ringworm – all common (if vaguely unpleasant-sounding) forms of fungal infections that people can get.

There are some ways that you can get nail fungus that aren’t quite as likely but still possible: if you get your nails done at a salon and there isn’t a rigorous disinfecting procedure with the tools, you could get it from a shared set of clippers or a common emery board.

Repetitive trauma or breakage of the nail will also cause the nail to become weaker, potentially allowing the fungus a location to congregate and spread from. So bear cleanliness and hygiene in mind when choosing your salons. A super cheap manicure could cost you in other ways!

It’s also important to know that nail fungus is contagious between nails, but it is very rare to get nail fungus directly from other people. That may not set too many of your friends at ease if they’re looking askance at your discoloured nail, but hey, at least you know.

Risk Factors

The biggest risk factor for you, like it or not, is your age. The older you are, the more your blood flow is reduced, the slower your nails grow, and the more your nails are exposed to trauma. All of these put together increase your risk of contracting some nail fungus as an older person.

However, just because youth is on your side doesn’t mean you’re off the hook! If you’re an athlete (good for you!) you may have a higher risk of getting a fungal nail due to how much you sweat and how often you spend in locker rooms, gyms, and communal showers compared to non-athletes. Already having athlete’s foot or jock itch can heighten your risk for nail fungus as well.

Changing rooms can be a breeding ground for bacteria and fungus

Skin and nail injuries or trauma are also risk factors, especially in an instance where there is an obvious avenue into the nail for the fungus – think about cracks, lifts, or open scratches on the nail. A comorbidity like psoriasis, diabetes, circulation problems and immunocompromising ailments can also heighten your risk for nail fungus.

Complications

Okay, another issue that might be a little freaky for you are the complications that are associated with nail fungus. Relax – it won’t creep up your arm and turn you into a moss-person. But it is important to remember that this is a living organism that is taking root on your body and, if left untreated, can compromise your immune system or lead to more serious infections.

This is particularly true if you have any of the risk factors we mentioned above – if you’re immunocompromised, have diabetes, or have reduced blood circulation. It can also make you more susceptible to skin infections like cellulitis or psoriasis.

Basically, if you’ve got any of the risk factors we mentioned above, please see a doctor to get some more information on any complications that are likely to arise. We can only do so much as a website without access to your medical history, so consulting with someone who has that information is going to be infinitely more helpful to you.

Treatment

So…we’ve been going on for a while about flaky, foul-smelling nails that are a deep yellow colour but right now is when things are going to get a bit weird.

Any quick Google search for fungal nail treatment or remedies will come up with dozens of different websites, lists, articles, listicles…you name it. There are tons of ways that people think you can treat fungal infections of your nails, and some are certainly better than others. That’s kind of the reason why NailFungus.co.uk was created – to sift through the treatments and remedies that work and to toss out the rest of the nonsense. Keep an eye out on our site to stay up-to-date with our reviews of treatments.

Before and After - Toenails

However, this specific page is still here to try to give you the basics, so here are the three kinds of treatments for fungal infections:

Oral Medication

This is probably the most common medical solution, usually reserved for the more serious cases of fungal infections. These are prescribed oral pills that will combat your infection from the inside out – recognisable names like Lamisil, Sporanox, and Diflucan. These are powerful and effective, but can only be prescribed by your doctor, so if you think your infection is serious, we urge you to make an appointment to get medical treatment.

Topical Solutions

These are less effective than oral medications, but they can still do much to combat the spread of infection. They come in the form of creams, spreads, or even hardening lacquer that are to be applied to your nail over a time period dependent on the extent of your fungus.

At-Home Remedies

Ah yes – the at-home remedies. You’ll recognise them almost immediately as most will involve an essential oil of some kind. While at-home remedies aren’t necessarily the best thing to do for your toenail fungus, some of them can work to an extent. Just remember: when another website tells you to try combining vinegar and mouthwash on your toes, you may want to check it out with us by browsing our site before you do anything too strange…as lovely as spearmint-scented feet are.

Prevention

The main idea in preventing nail fungus is simple: be good to your nails.

Sure, it may take some extra effort to prevent fungal infections, but if you ask anyone who’s had a yellow, flaky toenail before, they’ll tell you that it’s worth it.

Cleanliness

The first step in being good to your nails is cleanliness: make sure you wash your hands and feet regularly and scrub your nails with a brush to build up their strength and keep them free from any unwanted lingering bacteria or fungi. Make sure that when you clip or file your nails, you use a clean pair of clippers (especially if you share nail tools with family members).

Breathability

The next step in preventative care is breathability: fungus grows and multiplies in damp, sweaty conditions, so do your best to limit those situations. Try to wear open-toed shoes when possible and when not, wear shoes that allow breathability, especially when working out. Use a similar idea with socks – if you must wear them, wear comfortable, sweat-absorbing socks and clean them thoroughly once they’re dirty.

Physical barriers

And one thing that we feel like we shouldn’t really have to tell you because you can all read the signs in the gym’s changing rooms – wear footwear in communal gym areas! We’re talking flip-flops, sandals, or water shoes whenever you’re in a pool area, a shared shower area, or a locker room where lots of sweaty, fit people hang around.

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