What is the best way to treat and prevent toenail fungus?

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Answered by: Angela, An Expert in the Hair and Nails Category
Onychomychosis, commonly known as nail fungus, affects a majority of the world’s population. Onychomychosis occurs more commonly in adults over the age of 60 years of age and affects toenails more than fingernails. Nail fungus may be identified by the presence of very easily identifiable symptoms such as:

     Discolored nails

     Disfigured nails

     Thickening and chipping of the nails

     In some cases, foul odor from the nail bed

     Discomfort when wearing closed shoes

In some extreme cases, there may be formation of pus and severe pain in the nails and in the surrounding tissue.

Causes of Toenail Fungus:

Nail fungus is primarily a bacterial infection that may be prevented by taking some simple precautions. One must first understand the causes of toenail fungus before trying to avoid the onset of the infection. The 5 major causes of toenail fungus are as follows:

i.     Wearing tight shoes for long periods of time

ii.     Exposure to moisture for extended periods of time

iii.     Exposure to irritants like soap and other chemicals

iv.     Excessive sweating of the feet

v.     Inadequate personal hygiene

Toenail fungus affects 30% of the adult population in the United States today. Due to exposure, and wear and tear of the nails over the years, the nail bed weakens and becomes more susceptible to fungal infections that affect the nail bed and its surrounding areas. The nail becomes yellowish and in some cases brown and even black. The nails may become brittle and susceptible to breakage or chipping. Foul odors and pus may form in the nail bed and may even cause pain based on the severity and type of infection.

Precautions to reduce the risk of toenail fungus:

In most cases, toenail fungus can be relatively painless, however, it causes an emotional stigma due to the discoloration and disfigurement of the nails. Maintaining a good personal hygiene and making small lifestyle changes, helps prevent toenail fungus.

Personal cleanliness and hygiene are the most important measures to be taken. Keeping feet clean and dry is very important, as infections tend to develop in unclean and moist environments. Regular clipping and filing of nails helps in maintaining good personal hygiene. One must always buy well fitting shoes and avoid shoes that are tight or uncomfortable in any way. Socks must be washed and changed regularly as accumulation of sweat can accelerate the process of bacterial growth and result in toenail fungus. Walking bare feet must be avoided wherever possible and feet must be washed and dried thoroughly. One must avoid exposing the nails to any harsh chemicals that might irritate the skin and make it more susceptible to contract infections.

Apart from taking care of personal hygiene, it is important to maintain a healthy diet to prevent toenail fungus. It is also advisable to regularly use over the counter anti fungal ointments or powders to reduce the risk of infections. Soaking feet in warm water and salt is a commonly used method to keep feet clean and reduce the risk of contracting infections.

If the toenail fungus infection is in its initial stage, where there may be relatively less discoloration or chipping, there are ways to control the spread of the infection. Regular filing of the affected nails helps to contain the infection. As the nail grows out, the infected portion too grows out, and is eventually totally replaced by a new and unscathed nail. One thing to be kept in mind is that toenail infections spread from one toe to the other. Hence all instruments like nail cutters and nail filers must be kept separate for infected nails and a different set of instruments must be used on unaffected nails.

It must be remembered that though the methods mentioned above may help prevent toenail fungus; in cases where an individual already suffers from the infection, medical advice should be sought. In most cases, even though the infection is severe, people tend to ignore it as it does not cause them any pain. However, based on the severity of the other symptoms and the spread of the infection, it is advisable that one must consult a medical practitioner in order to get the necessary treatment. A medical practitioner is the best person to examine the severity and suggest a course of treatment for the infection.

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