Fungal nail refers to a fungal infection of the nail, which is more common in the toenails than in the fingernails. The body normally hosts a variety of microorganisms including bacteria and fungi. Some of these are useful to the body, while others can multiply rapidly and form infections. Fungal nail problems are caused when a fungus spreads under the nail into the nailbed. The fungus may infect a broken or injured nail or can spread to the nail from a nearby skin infection such as athlete’s foot (tinea).
A fungal nail may show one or more of the following signs:
- Discolouration (may turn white, yellow or brown)
- Loss of luster and shine
- Thickening or roughness of the nail
- Distortion of nail shape
- Brittleness or crumbling of the nail
- Debris becoming trapped under the nail
- Loosening or separation of the nail from the nail bed
- Pain and tenderness
What causes fungal nail?
Fungal infections can be picked up by walking barefoot in public areas that are often moist, such as changing rooms, swimming pools and showers. These are ideal environments for a fungus to spread from person to person.
The risk of fungal nail can also be increased by wearing closed-in footwear, having moist skin (ie, not drying your skin properly), and the presence of minor skin or nail injuries.
How is fungal nail treated?
Fungal nail can be difficult to treat and prone to recurrence.
If you think you may have a fungal nail it is always best to see a podiatrist to confirm a diagnosis as the signs of a fungal nail can be similar to other medical conditions such as psoriasis. If a fungal nail is suspected, your podiatrist can take a nail scraping (no pain involved!) and send this to pathology to check the type of fungi. If there is a positive result then appropriate medication may be recommended to treat the fungi.
Depending on your individual situation, conservative treatment will usually involve either an oral medication or a topical solution. There are pros and cons of each treatment option and your podiatrist will discuss these with you in consideration of your needs. When topical solution is used, regular podiatry treatment is needed so that nails can be thinned out and the solution is able to penetrate the site of the fungal infection. Podiatry treatment for fungal nail will also include footwear advice to avoid ongoing trauma to the nails.
In addition to traditional treatment options, a new and exciting technology is now available for the treatment of stubborn fungal nail: laser podiatry. Entire Podiatry was the first clinic in Queensland to offer laser podiatry treatment using the Cutera GenesisPlus laser system.