What is Nail Fungus?

T. Levi

Your body hosts millions of microscopic organisms, some harmful, some hurtful. Fungi are one type of tiny, plant-like organism that lives on your body or inside it. Unlike plants, they have no chlorophyll, a chemical which turns sunlight into food. To survive, fungi absorb nutrients from other living or dead things. They thrive in warm, moist places, like underneath your toenails.

Fungal infections need early treatment to prevent spreading.
Fungal infections need early treatment to prevent spreading.

It is estimated that around 36 million people in the United States have onychomycosis, a fungal nail infection. Fungal nail infections are more common in toenails, but they also occur in fingernails. They are more likely in adults and often follow a fungal foot infection, like athlete's foot.

Applying tea tree oil to the nails can be an effective treatment of nail fungus.
Applying tea tree oil to the nails can be an effective treatment of nail fungus.

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When the nail is infected with fungi, it becomes yellowish, dry and brittle. The nail also becomes thicker, as layers of fungi grow and bloom. The nail may even separate from the skin, slightly rising off the toe.

Antifungal creams are often effective at treating mild nail fungus infections.
Antifungal creams are often effective at treating mild nail fungus infections.

Locker rooms, public pools and gym showers can all be sources of fungal infections. Fungi love these hot, damp environments. Nail salons can also be a source of fungal infection. If the foot tub is not properly cleaned after a pedicure, fungi can live there, infecting the next person that puts their feet in tub.

Locker room floors can often harbor toenail fungi.
Locker room floors can often harbor toenail fungi.

Perhaps the best way to prevent a fungal toenail infection is not to go barefoot at public pools or locker rooms. When you go to the nail salon, be sure the equipment is properly cleaned.

People should only get pedicures at professional salons that sterilize their equipment to help avoid the fungus that often causes yellow toenails.
People should only get pedicures at professional salons that sterilize their equipment to help avoid the fungus that often causes yellow toenails.

Although they may not hurt, it is best to treat fungal infections early. Untreated fungal infections can become very painful, making it difficult to walk and uncomfortable to wear shoes.

Untreated fungal infections can become very painful.
Untreated fungal infections can become very painful.

Doctors prescribe topical ointments or oral medication depending on how much the fungus has grown. Fungal nail infections are not life threatening. It can take years before the infection becomes large enough to cause pain or difficulty walking.

If untreated, the foot fungus known as athlete's foot can lead to toenail fungus.
If untreated, the foot fungus known as athlete's foot can lead to toenail fungus.

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Discussion Comments

yumdelish

I took a nail tech course a while back and learned a lot about nails and fungus. One thing that a lot of people don't think about is the damage polish can do.

If you have this problem please don't try to cover it up, regardless of how ugly you feel it is. Polish creates a dark environment for nail fungus, encouraging more growth.

MissMuffet

@Potterspop - Ugh I know what you are going through. I spent five years dreading summer because I was too ashamed to wear sandals.

If you feel you have reached the end of the road with meds you could try nail fungus laser treatment, as I did. It's quick, painless and so far I'm really pleased with the results.

It takes about nine months for a new nail to grow in, but I can see this happening and that keeps my spirits up.

Potterspop

@surreallife - I found this article while looking for nail fungus home remedies. I'm so happy to get some great information and the tip on using vinegar.

I know it may take a long time to get rid of this nasty affliction but what choice do I have? I've had no luck at all with medicine from the doctor.

surreallife

To get rid of nail fungus is a very slow, nearly impossible process. Fungus is so tough and so hard to get rid of that it can become very frustrating. I have read that soaking your toe in diluted apple vinegar can help. But you have to be persistent.

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