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Toenail Fungus FAQs

What is Toenail Fungus?

The medical term for toenail fungus is “onychomycosis,” pronounced on * EE * ko * my * ko * sis. Despite the commonly used term “fungal toenails”, onychomycosis describes both fungus and yeast infections in the nail. It is a living organism that thrives in dark, damp environments such as under and around nails. Fungal infections are very common on both fingernail and toenails. Toenails are more likely to be affected by fungus since it is attracted to a dark and damp environment which is more common on the foot than on the hand. In more severe conditions, affected nails can have a yellowish or brownish discoloration. They may thicken or become brittle over time, and may even shed. Sometimes the nails have crumbling edges. It can be unsightly, disfiguring, embarrassing, and at times, painful.

How Common are Nail Fungal Infections?

The prevalence in America is about 2-3%, but some have reported it as high as 13%. Even at a low estimate of 2%, this accounts for 6 million Americans with toenail fungus. Toenail fungus affects men twice as often as it affects women. The prevalence among elderly individuals and diabetics is 25%. The nail itself provides a protective covering that allows the fungus to grow underneath. An accumulation of keratinous debris is usually found beneath the free edge of the infected nail.

What are the risk factors?

  • increasing age
  • male gender
  • nail trauma
  • sweaty feet
  • poor circulation
  • poor hygiene
  • compromised immune system

Athletes tend to have a higher rate of fungus infection than non-athletes. The moisture in the shoe combined with repeated nail trauma increases the chance of infection. Hikers, runners, backpackers, soccer, basketball and tennis players, athletes wearing loose fitting shoes that allow jamming of the nails against the shoe and any individual wearing shoes that toe tight are at risk for developing toenail fungus.

How do I avoid Toenail Fungus?

  1. Prevention is the best cure!
  2. Make sure you rotate your shoes often and keep them in a cool dry place.
  3. Change your insoles frequently, and make sure they dry out between use.
  4. Place an anti-fungal powder or spray in the shoes to help fight off the fungus.
  5. Bleach out the shower on a weekly basis and wash your shower mat regularly in hot water.
  6. Make sure your athletic shoes fit well to prevent jamming at the toes. Jamming at the toes leads to microtrauma at the nails and increases the chance for fungal infection.
  7. If you belong to a gym or health club, wear sandals in the locker room and don’t walk around barefoot.
  8. Don’t keep your shoes in the gym locker where they cannot dry out.
  9. If your feet sweat excessively, try using an antiperspirant spray on your feet before your workout.
  10. Cut your toenails straight across. Don’t cut too short and cause breaks in the skin. This will increase the chance for fungal infection. Don’t let the toenails grow too long or they will jam against the shoe and cause bleeding under the nail, again increasing the chance for fungal infection.

Is It Contagious?

It is possible to spread it to other family members. Nail fungus is not as easy to spread from one person to the other as one might think but precautions should be taken like not sharing towels, shoes or nail care items.