Toenail fungal infections are caused by a type of fungus called a dermatophyte which enters the area beneath the nail, usually through a tiny cut or other very small opening around the nail bed. Once the fungus reaches the tissue below the nail, the nail serves as a shield that protects the fungus and makes it easier for it to grow undisturbed. The warm, moist environment of shoes and socks makes fungal growth even easier. Plus, because blood flow around the nail beds is relatively limited, the body's natural immune responses are often inadequate to fight off the infection and destroy the fungus. People with circulatory problems like diabetes and those with weak immune systems are at an increased risk for infections. Dermatophytes are most common in damp environments like showers and pool or spa decks and surrounds, and being barefoot in these areas can also increase the risk of becoming infected with the fungus.
Most toenail fungal infections cause a small white or yellow discoloration to occur within the nail. Without treatment, the discoloration will spread to the entire nail, and the nail itself will become brittle. Once the infection has reached this stage, it often causes pain when the nail is pressed or when wearing shoes.
Fungus nail treatment requires professional-strength products not available over-the-counter. Topical and oral medications are available, and often, the nail will need to be partially or completely removed to enable topical medications to reach the infected area. The laser is also an effective fungal nail treatment.
Try not to walk barefoot in public areas where the fungus is most likely to be found, including gym locker rooms and showers. Trim nails straight across and avoid wearing nail polish on the toenails to keep them as healthy as possible.
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