Onychomycosis refers to fungal infections present in fingernails or toenails. It can be called nail ringworm and more commonly affects the toes. The condition causes the nail to take on a yellow color and the nail may look like it is opaque instead of clear. Onychomycosis additionally may damage the integrity of affected nails and they may break or crumble easily. Usually, this fungal infection doesn’t cause nail pain, but it does look painful and it’s pretty easy to notice. In very severe cases, nails may be painful.
There are many fungi present in a lot of human environments that can result in onychomycosis. It’s not always clear why some people develop reactions to these fungi while others don’t, especially when exposure is the same. One factor that may particularly encourage growth of these special fungi that attack the nails, called dermatophytes, is a warm and wet environment. If you have constantly sweaty feet and wear heavy shoes, you might encourage growth of dermatophytes, to the point where they create onychomycosis.
Treatment for this condition can be challenging, but usually involves taking oral antifungal medications that are prescribed by your physician. You usually have to take these meds for an extended period of time, about six to twelve weeks, and at first affected nails may not look completely cured. In fact, until new nail growth occurs and a fully new nail is in place, there may still be crumbling, yellowed or cloudy nails. It can help to trim the nails short, but not too short, so there is less discoloration showing.
If you suspect you have onychomycosis, you shouldn’t delay seeing a doctor. This condition isn’t like other fungal infections that can usually be treated with over the counter anti-fungal ointments. Unless contraindicated, prescription antifungal medications are the best method for treatment and most likely to result in cure.
It is especially important to see a doctor right away if you have diabetes and notice onychomycosis on the feet. Diabetics have to be particularly vigilant about foot care and are at much more risk for devastating feet infections. If you seem prone to developing fungal infections on feet, it can help to use moisture wicking socks, to keep the nails trimmed and clean, and to make sure to dry between the fingers and toes after baths and showers. In particular, make sure your feet are fully dry before putting on socks and shoes.