Nail Fungus (Onychomycosis) is a progressive disease of the toenails and fingernails. Nail fungus is the most common cause of discolored, thick, and deformed toenails. Toenails are affected more often than fingernails because the fungi that cause this disease thrive in the dark, warm, moist environment that is found in our shoes. Infected nails may first appear as a yellowish, white, or green discoloration of a small area of the toenail. If left untreated, the entire nail may eventually become discolored, thick, flaky, detached from the underlying nail bed; and an accumulation of dead, white, dry material may form between the nail and underlying nail bed. The infected toenails are usually not painful until the nail becomes so thick that it rubs against the toe box of the shoe.
What is a Fungus? Fungi (plural) belong to a group of primitive organisms that includes mushrooms, yeasts, rusts, and molds. The most common species of fungi that attacks the skin and nails of humans fall within the category known as dermatophytes. Dermatophytes are the parasitic fungi that attack and cause diseases of the skin and nails.
Function of the Toenails: Toenails once served as claws and aided early humans in defending themselves, and allowing them to climb and move over certain ground surfaces more easily. Today they serve no useful purpose, and when they cause chronic problems, the nails can be removed without inconveniencing the individual. With that being said, having ten toenails and fingernails is certainly more cosmetically pleasing than missing a nail here or there!
The anatomy of the nail is divided into six specific parts:
| 1. the nail root (nail matrix)
2. nail bed
3. nail plate
||4. cuticle (eponychium)
5. perionychium (lateral and medial nail folds)
Click here for a complete discussion of the anatomy of the nail.
Rate of Nail Growth: Nails grow from the day we are born until we die. The rate at which nails grow becomes slower as we age; growth rate can also be affected by certain diseases, poor circulation, dietary deficiencies, some medications, and chemotherapy. Fingernails grow faster than toenails, at a rate of 3mm per month. It takes 6 months for a fingernail to grow from the root to the free edge. Toenails grow about 1 mm per month, and take about 12 months to be completely replaced.
There is an "urban myth" about nail growth continuing after death; well, it is not so. What appears as nail growth after death is the shrinking of the skin and soft tissue around the nail plate. This gives the nail plate the appearance that it is getting longer, but it is not; everything around the nail plate is just shrinking.
The symptoms of nail fungus can vary greatly according to the:
- Type of nail fungus infection present.
- Duration of the infection. The early signs are much different from those that are seen after the infection has been present for some time. Usually, there is no pain until the latter stages of the disease when the nail plate becomes thick and deformed.
Types and Symptoms of Fungal Nail Infections: The following four pictures represent the most common types of fungal nail infections. The infections pictured are in their early to middle stages. Click on the picture that looks the most like your condition, and learn more about the types and symptoms of fungal nail infections.
How a Fungal Nail Infection Occurs: In order for a fungal infection of the nail to occur, the fungus must successfully attack and penetrate the nail plate or nail bed. This can only happen if the nail plate is damaged or separated from the underlying nail bed. This damage or separation needs only be microscopic in size; that is all a fungus needs to invade the nail. Most healthy people have a natural immunity to these organisms, so they can successfully destroy the fungi before it takes hold in the nail plate or bed. Those who do not have this immunity, are among the millions of Americans who suffer from onychomycosis (fungal nail infections).
Predisposing Factors (or those factors which increases a person's chances of developing a fungal nail infection):
Certain systemic diseases decrease the efficiency of the immune system making it difficult to fight off nail fungi:
- Poor circulation
- Immunosuppressive diseases
- Cancer that is being treated with radiation or chemotherapy
- Improperly cleaned and sterilized pedicure instruments and soaking tubs makes it easy for fungi to be transferred from one person's infected nail to someone else's healthy/normal nail. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is most appropriate when visiting a nail salon: Bring your own professional quality pedicure/manicure instruments and tub liners with you! Click here to find out more about these safe and affordable instruments, tub liners, and attractive carrying bags.
- Toenail fungus may spread from foot to foot on the wet floors of showers and locker rooms, and around swimming pools. Those who frequently use these facilities can be at greater risk for fungal nail infections.
- The fungi which cause athlete's foot of the skin are the same organisms that cause fungal nail infections. Therefore, those people who experience frequent attacks of athlete's foot are more prone to developing fungal nail infections.
- Fungi need moisture to survive. People who have sweaty feet, or those who practice poor foot hygiene, are more susceptible to fungal nail infections.
- Frequent injuries to the toenails may loosen the nail from the nail bed, allowing fungi to invade the nail. Athletes, and those who wear tight or pointed toe shoes frequently injure their toenails, thus increasing their risk of fungus toenails.
Constantly wearing nail polish prevents the air from getting to the nail plate. Fresh air helps to keep nails dry and healthy. Also, the harsh chemicals in the nail polish may help to destroy the normal structure of the nail. This can make it easier for a fungus to invade and penetrate the nail. However, Dr. Remedy's Natural Nail Polish colors the nails beautifully without dangerous chemicals and protects nails from fungal disease.
The sooner treatment is begun, the faster the nail will return to normal. Topical medications, or those applied directly to the nail, are most effective when the infection has not:
- Grown under the proximal nail fold (click here for information about The Anatomy of the Nail)
- Produced a thick and deformed toenail
If the infection has spread under the proximal nail fold or produced a thick and deformed nail, you may want to discuss using Oral anti-fungal medications with your doctor. Oral medications may produce some serious side effects, and it is for this reason that your doctor may insist that you try Topical medications first. We have found that the following Topical Medications are uniquely effective in the treatment of fungal nail infections:
The thinner the nail plate, the easier it is for topical antifungal medications to produce positive effects. If your nails are thick and deformed, filing the nail thinner can reduce treatment time and the discomfort produced by thick nails. The PediNova III Electric Nail and Foot Care Instrument is a high performance medical grade instrument that easily thins hard, deformed, and thick nails. Click here for more information.
Treatment of fungal nail infections can be very frustrating, especially if you are using the wrong product! You can save time and money by using these products—the products that doctors recommend. These products are not available in pharmacies.
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is really true when it comes to fungus nail infections! These infections can be extremely difficult to get rid of; therefore, if your work or leisure activities put you in situations that predispose you to nail infections, the following products may help you to avoid picking up nail fungus.