Though it is still late winter, this is the time when we begin to think about making our spring and summer vacation plans. Warmer weather means wearing lighter clothing and more comfortable footwear, including sandals or flip flops.  However, many people are embarrassed to expose their feet because of fungal toenail infections.

Fungal infections can affect any part of the body, from the skin to the eyes. Fungi are normally present in and around the body along with bacteria. When a fungus begins to overgrow, an infection can occur. Onychomycosis (also called tinea unguium) is a fungal infection that affects the nails. Fungal infections normally develop over time, so any immediate difference in the way your nail looks or feels may be too subtle to notice at first.

There are many different causes of fungal nail infections, and each cause has a treatment of its own. Although many of the causes of onychomycosis are preventable, some risk factors increase the likelihood of developing it. You are more likely to develop a fungal nail infection if you:

  • have diabetes
  • have a disease that affects the blood vessels
  • are an older woman
  • wear artificial nails
  • swim in a public swimming pool
  • have a nail injury
  • have moist fingers or toes for an extended time
  • have a weakened immune system
  • wear closed shoes, such as tennis shoes or boots

fungal nail infectionVisible fungal nail infection signs include:

  • scaling under the nail (subungual hyperkeratosis)
  • white or yellow streak on the nail (lateral onychomycosis)
  • crumbling corner or tip of the nail (distal onychomycosis)
  • flaking white areas on the nail’s surface (may include pits in the nail)
  • yellow spots at the bottom of the nail (proximal onychomycosis )
  • loss of the nail

Your healthcare provider may diagnose a fungal nail infection by looking at the affected nail and asking questions about your symptoms. He or she may also take a nail clipping to look at under a microscope or send to a laboratory for a fungal culture.

Usually, over-the-counter products are not recommended to treat nail infections because they do not provide reliable results. Instead, your doctor may prescribe an oral antifungal medication, such as:

  • terbinafine
  • itraconazole
  • fluconazole
  • griseofulvin

You may use other antifungal treatments, such as antifungal nail lacquer or topical solutions. These treatments are brushed onto the nail in the same way that one would apply nail polish. Depending on the type of fungus causing the infection, as well as the extent of the infection, you may have to use these medications for several months.

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