Toenail fungus is a fungus which can colonize one or more toenails, causing an infection. A number of fungal species will grow on or in the toenail, including the same species which cause fungal infections elsewhere on the body. Onychomycosis, as fungal infection of the toenails is known, is usually a chronic condition and it can be extremely difficult to treat, usually taking weeks or months to clear up even with extremely aggressive medication.
People can pick up toenail fungus in a variety of places. Fungi like warm, moist environments, making gymnasiums, locker rooms, and public pools popular spots for fungi which will infect the nail. People can also develop onychomycosis as a result of wearing shoes which do not allow the feet to breathe, and the fungus can be picked up while walking barefoot in a variety of environments. Sharing shoes with people who have fungal infections can also cause the infection to spread.
As the fungus grows, the nail typically thickens, and it may turn white, yellow, or grayish. It is common to see textural changes such as sharp ridges in the nail, and the nail can also become very brittle or crumbly. In some cases, toenail fungus infections result in the loss of a toenail, which can be very painful. If the infection is not being treated, the nail growing in will become infected with residual fungus.
Antifungal medications can be applied directly to the toenail to treat a toenail fungus infection. It may also be necessary to discard old closed toed shoes and socks, as the fungus may be entrenched and impossible to get rid of. During the healing process, wearing open toed shoes which allow plenty of light and air to circulate around the toenail is recommended, as is wearing sandals in shared public spaces where people might be going barefoot to avoid passing the fungus on to others.
People can reduce the risk of picking up toenail fungus by always wearing shoes in places like locker rooms and public showers, and by making sure that their shoes fit properly. While it is perfectly safe to wear closed toed shoes, it is a good idea to always use fresh socks, and to change socks when they get dirty or moist. It also helps to wear sandals now and then to allow the toes to breathe. Keeping the feet clean and dry will also help cut down on the chance of developing a fungal infection.