A fungal nail fungal infection is an extremely common condition, which can leave you with discolored, brittle, crumbly nails, usually at the end of your toes. Its official name is onychomycosis, which simply means fungal nail. However, rather than affecting only the skin at the base of your nails or between your toes, a fungus invades your entire nails. Fungi are small organisms that you may only glimpse through a very large microscope. This means that even if you have cut your nail open, you may be unable to clearly see the fungus.
Nail infections are mostly caused by fungi known as dermatophytes and species of fungi called dermatophytes. These species can be found on anything that has a moist, warm, dark environment, such as the scalp, the underbelly of animals, and the outer surface of human skin. Fungal nail infections can also be spread by contact with contaminated clothing or bedding, or from infected people. The infection starts at the top of the nail, moving toward the toenail, and then down the toenail until it reaches the skin underneath. The fungi that cause nail infections are quite common; most of the people living in the United States and Europe have had a toenail or fingernail infection at some point in their lives.
Your body has ways to fight off infection, but once you get an infection, it is difficult to cure. If left untreated, a fungal infection may spread from one toenail to all of the toes and even to your finger and palm hands. It can spread to your face and scalp, too, but these are unlikely because your body has mechanisms to prevent this. In the early stages of infection, the fungus can hide quite nicely inside the nail, hardening and turning it a yellow or brownish color. The nails may separate from each other, or the entire nail may fall off.
When you first notice the symptoms of a fungal nail infection, the nail will look and feel very painful. You may be tempted to just pick at it or to file away the new nail that forms, but these actions can spread the fungus or make it worse. You may find that the area feels sweaty, or you may be having a rash or an allergic reaction to the area of infection. A visit to a doctor is the best way to get rid of a nail infection.
The doctor can give you a prescription for an antifungal medication that is applied directly to the nail plate, the top layer of the skin. The medicine is absorbed by the skin and travels through the hole in the nail plate, which allows it to penetrate the entire nail. The medicine kills the fungus, as well as any other bacteria or viruses that are in the area. Some people find that the treatment is uncomfortable. They also have to be careful not to cut too deep, since you could damage the skin or cut into a secondary infection, such as an ingrown toenail.
If you want a more permanent solution, you can take an oral antifungal called nystatin. This drug travels through the blood stream and reaches the nerve endings in the nail plate. This drug destroys the fungus, onychomycosis or not, within hours. You might need several doses, especially if you have been taking stronger or more potent medications for your onychomycosis. You’ll have to come back for a maintenance dosage every three weeks or so, or else your onychomycosis can come back.