What Causes Toenail Fungus?

Even though it’s not sandal season, it’s still nice to have beautiful nails. If you notice yellowed or thickened nails, resist the temptation to cover up the issues with nail polish. Yellow, crumbly, or thickened nails can be a sign of a toenail fungus.

Sometimes a minor fungal infection can be cleared with over-the-counter fungal remedies, but toenail fungus is often tricky to eliminate. If you notice the signs of a toenail fungus, don’t wait to address the issue. Delaying treatment can increase your risk of re-infection and pesky complications like nail loss.

Dr. David J. Kaplan of FootCare Specialists, Inc. in San Mateo and Half Moon Bay, California, explains what causes toenail fungus, how we can treat it, and how you can help avoid getting the condition.

What causes toenail fungus?

As the name suggests, fungal nail infections are caused by fungi, a type of living organism. This is the same type of fungus responsible for ringworm and athlete’s foot. The name changes depending on what part of your body is infected. For example, an infection on your foot is called tinea pedis, while an infection on your nail is called tinea unguium.

Nail fungus – also called onychomycosis – enters into the nail bed through cracks. If you already have dry, brittle nails, the resulting cracks may allow fungus and other germs a place of entry. 

It’s not uncommon to see signs of both a toenail fungus and athlete’s foot. In fact, your nail fungus may have originated from an athlete’s foot outbreak between your toes. Fungal infections spread easily from one nail to another – another reason to seek professional care when dealing with fungal infections.

Are you at risk for a nail infection?

As mentioned earlier, fungus can enter cracks on your nails. In other words, having dry or cracked nails can put you at risk of developing an infection. Here are seven more risk factors that increase your risk of developing nail fungus: 

  1. Sweating heavily (fungus grows in warm, moist environments)
  2. Having a history of athlete’s foot
  3. Being older, especially if you have reduced blood flow to your feet, dry nails, or slow-growing nails
  4. Walking barefoot in public shower areas (e.g. at the gym or community rec center)
  5. Having a minor nail injury
  6. Having diabetes
  7. Having a weakened immune system

If you are in any of the at-risk categories, you can take a few steps to reduce your chances of developing onychomycosis. Keeping your feet clean and dry is the best prevention against any fungal infection. In addition, change out of sweaty socks immediately (such as after a workout), wear shower shoes if using public showers, and inspect your feet daily for any signs of infection or injury.

When does toenail fungus need medical intervention?

Fungus infections spread easily, and they typically require some type of treatment to eliminate for good. We know that it’s not always easy to talk about a fungal infection, but rest assured, these infections are very common. Dr. Kaplan encourages you to seek podiatric care if your at-home care hasn’t improved the state of your nails or if your nail becomes increasingly thickened, brittle, discolored, or misshapen. 

If you have diabetes, skip the at-home care and seek podiatric care. Having diabetes can increase your risk of complications from any foot-related condition, including infections, sores, or blisters.

Treating toenail fungus without medications or surgery

Toenail fungus can be tough to eliminate. That’s why Dr. Kaplan chooses to use laser energy rather than creams, medications, or even toenail removal surgery. Thanks to the CoolTouch® laser system, Dr. Kaplan often tackles pesky infections with anywhere from 1-3 treatments. Hello beautiful, clear nails!  

If you need treatment for a fungal infection or want to learn more about CoolTouch laser treatments, we’re just a call or click away. Call our San Mateo or Half Moon Bay, California, office or request an appointment online for toenail fungus treatment. 

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