Also called onychomycosis, this is an infection underneath the surface of the toenail caused by fungi. When the tiny organisms take hold, the nail often becomes darker in color and smells foul. Debris may collect beneath the nail plate, white marks frequently appear on the nail plate, and the infection is capable of spreading to other toenails, the skin, or even the fingernails.
If ignored, the infection can spread and possibly impair your ability to work or even walk. The resulting thicker nails are difficult to trim and make walking painful when wearing shoes. Onychomycosis can also be accompanied by a secondary bacterial or yeast infection in or about the nail plate.
- Walking barefoot in damp areas such as swimming pools, locker rooms, or showers
- Injury to the nail bed
- Diabetes, circulatory problems, or immune-deficiency conditions
- Excessive perspiration and/or a history of athlete’s foot
Symptoms are characterized by a progressive change in a toenail’s quality and color, which is often ugly and embarrassing.
A daily routine of cleansing over a period of many months may temporarily suppress mild infections. White markings that appear on the surface of the nail can be filed off, followed by the application of an over-the-counter liquid antifungal agent. However, even the best over-the-counter treatments may not prevent a fungal infection from coming back.
Treatments may include prescribing topical or oral medication and debridement (removal of diseased nail matter and debris) of an infected nail.
Prevention includes the regular cleaning and clipping of toenails, avoiding wearing hosiery that is too tight, changing shoes and socks more than once a day, and avoiding applying polish to nails that appear infected.