Toenail fungus is catchy, and not in a good way. Learn how to avoid getting infected
Clip. Clip. Clip. Most of your toenails are smooth and the nail-beds are light pink and easy to cut. But one toenail is thicker than the others, it’s a dull yellowish color, and it curls inward. There’s debris underneath and a slight smell. You have toenail fungus! It’s an embarrassing condition that takes a long time to cure. And we bet you are wondering how you even got it in the first place.
Toenail fungus, also known as onychomycosis, is the same type of fungus that causes athlete’s foot. It’s spread through spores and it’s quite contagious. Somewhere along the line you picked up some fungal spores and the keratin in your nails is their tasty treat.
Unexpected ways in which to get toenail fungus:
1. You might have done it to yourself! If you have athlete’s foot, that can spread to your toenails. You can also catch foot fungus by walking barefoot in a communal area such as a gym locker room, swimming pool, campground shower, or dorm shower.
2. Listen to your mom! Don’t share personal items. Another way to get a fungal infection is by sharing items such as towels, toenail clippers, shoes, or socks. Be sure to put on those silly little sockies at the shoe store before you try on new shoes.
3. And you thought that pedicure was your big reward! Unfortunately for you, toe fungus was the prize. Some salons do not sanitize their equipment properly between clients. Additionally, when pedicurists cut the cuticle, they leave your skin open to infection by sneaky fungus.
4. Those killer stilettos pose a peril to your toes. Wearing tight shoes or hosiery which have been squeezing your toes and traumatizing them, leaves them open to infection.
5. People with weakened immune systems, poor circulation, or diabetes are more likely to get infected.
6. Men are more likely to be infected than women. Women often wear open-toed shoes, so maybe they air their feet out more.
How to prevent infections or reinfections
Fungus grows in warm, moist, dark environments, so the tight, dark, sweaty confines of your shoe present a perfect setting for fungus to flourish. In order to fight infection, you must work to keep your feet dry and away from any spores.
Here are some tips to avoid getting infected or having the infection get worse.
Protection and treatment at home
- Always make sure you dry your feet completely before you put on shoes. Dry the areas between the toes.
- Change your towels and sheets regularly. Wash socks, towels and bedsheets in hot water with bleach if you have an infection.
- Disinfect your showers at home once a week with bleach-based cleaners.
- Be careful when you cut your nails. Sanitize the nail clippers and cut the nails straight. Don’t cut them too short or round the edges; let the end of the nail reach the end of the toe. You will avoid ingrown toenails which can cut into the skin and further an infection.
- Don’t wear tight shoes. Your toes should not be touching the shoe.
- Wear shoes that are ventilated. Wear socks and shoes that allow your feet to breathe. Natural materials like cotton, leather, or canvas will allow for more breathability.
- Don’t wear the same shoes every day. Invest in two pairs of athletic shoes to let the sweaty pair dry before you wear them again. Get rid of old shoes—look at it as a great excuse to go shoe shopping.
- Disinfect your shoes and feet every day. Spray your clean, dry feet and your shoes with antifungal spray. You can also sprinkle antifungal powder or use a shoe sterilizer that relies on UV light to kill the fungus.
- Wash your hands and other implements after touching infected nails so you don’t spread the infection to other nails.
Protection and treatment outside your home
- Wear shower shoes or flip flops in communal areas. It’s not just walking through locker rooms barefoot that’s a problem—wear your footwear as you shower.
- The American Podiatric Medical Association recommends not using nail polish on infected toenails.
- Ask your salon about how they sanitize their implements. Metal tools should be sanitized in high-temperature autoclaves, but often they are just allowed to soak in disinfectant. Used pumice stones can also harbor bacteria.
- Buy professional pedicure tools and ask your pedicurist to use your tools. Let him or her know not to cut cuticles, just to push them back. While sharing nail polish at the salon doesn’t seem to be a problem due to the chemicals in the polish, better safe than sorry. Bonus: You can do your own touch-ups if you use your own nail polish.
Nail fungus is notoriously difficult to treat. Many over-the-counter medications do not penetrate to the nail bed. Home remedies range from soaking feet in Listerine to using tea tree oil to dabbing Vicks Vaporub. There is no research to back up whether these really work, and meanwhile, your fungus gets worse, and an infection could spread and cause serious complications. The sooner you seek treatment, the better the outcome.
Your best bet is to visit your podiatrist as soon as you suspect an infection, especially if your toenails are discolored, thickened, or misshapen. Treatments depend on the severity of the infection, but they can range from topical or oral medications to laser treatment.
Dr. Nina Coletta has extensive experience treating and curing patients with toenail fungus and athlete’s foot. She will take a culture of the fungus and prescribe the optimal course of treatment for your particular situation. Call our office at 954-452-4590 to set up an appointment today!
Dr. Nina L. Coletta has been practicing Podiatry for over twenty years. Her practice remains on the cutting edge of advancements in Podiatric Medicine, providing state of the art laser treatments, three-dimensional technology to construct custom orthotics and braces, and in-house arterial and venous studies of the lower extremity. From pediatrics to mature adults, her staff provides superior care in a warm, welcoming environment.