News & Events > Onychomychosis - Toe Nail Infection

Onychomychosis - Toe Nail Infection

By Jim Dolan, DPM
Podiatrist - Foot & Ankle (Podiatry)

Do you suffer from painful, thickened, discolored and often hard to cut toe nails? If so, you are not alone.

This condition, onychomycosis (the medical term for a fungal infection in the nail), is one of the most common foot conditions seen in our office. In addition to the physical discomfort there can be an emotional component to this condition as well. Individuals may be embarrassed by the appearance of their toenails. Some also worry that the condition is contagious and often believe they have the fungus because they did something wrong, such as not cleaning their feet properly.

Let us examine this condition a little closer and come up with some suggestions for addressing it. It has been estimated that today, as many as 30 million Americans have onychomycosis.*

Contrary to what many individuals believe, onychomycosis is not caused by a lack of cleanliness or easily transmitted from one person to another. The fungus that causes the nail changes of onychomycosis is all around us. We are exposed to it every day and everywhere we go, not just at the gym or in the shower.

The most common cause of a fungal infection is an injury to the nail.

This could be anything from stubbing your toe to dropping a heavy object on the toe, to wearing shoes that are too tight. Runners are susceptible to this problem because of repetitive trauma to the toenails. Fungus is on our skin all the time and an injury that loosens the nail allows the organism to get under the nail and then grow. Another less common cause of onychomycosis is leaving toenail polish on for too long. The fungus gets trapped between the nail and the polish. I have seen individuals notice changes in their toenails after removing polish that has been on for many weeks.

Diagnosis of a fungal infection in the nail is important because all thickened nails are not caused by a fungal organism. This is achieved by examining a scraping of the nail under a microscope or culturing the nail in an attempt to grow and identify the fungus.

Preventative measures:

  • Treat athlete's foot infections with prescription medications.
  • Wear shoes that are correctly fitted.

What to do if you notice changes in your toenail?

Have it looked at early. It is easier to treat and resolve a fungal infection that is only in a small section of the nail opposed to the whole nail.

Treatment options include:

  • Natural topical medications such as tea tree oil.
  • Prescription topical medications.
  • Prescription oral medications.

Onychomycosis is not a serious medical problem, but it is certainly a common one and can be quite uncomfortable. Early treatment from a foot and ankle specialist, primary care physician or dermatologist can help to resolve the problem effectively.

* Source: Podiatry Today