What is Onychomycosis?
Onychomycosis, often referred to as tinea unguium, is a fungal infection that causes thickened, brittle, crumbled, or ragged nails. It usually affects the fingernails and toenails and generally develops over a period of time.
Fungal infections occur due to overgrowth of fungi on or under the nail. The same fungi that cause athlete’s foot, ringworm, jock itch, etc can result in Onychomycosis too. Different types of Onychomycosis can arise due to the difference in fungal infections, these include:
- Distal Subungual infection
- White superficial infection
- Proximal subungual infection
- Candida infection
Onychomycosis symptoms vary from individual to individual depending on the severity of the infection, the time elapsed, related health conditions, and age. It can affect one or all the fingernails and toenails in one’s body. Some of the common symptoms across different ages has been listed below for your understanding:
- Distorted and raised nail
- Thick and brittle nail
- Infected nail that creates a foul smell
- Crumbled or ragged nails
Who is at Risk?
Onychomycosis risk factors differ according to the type of fungi infection. Each type of infection has a treatment of its own. The underlying causes of these fungal infections vary from individual lifestyle, hygiene, skin conditions, etc. Certain red flags for when an individual might be at risk are:
- Weak immune system
- Nail injury
- Wearing artificial nails or cosmetics
- Skin injury in or around the nail
- Diseases that cause poor blood circulation
- Lifestyle diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.
- Wearing tight shoes, or boots
- Exposure to infection in public places like swimming pools, public washrooms, etc
- Age over 65 years
Onychomycosis causes depend on how the infection has occurred and the type of fungi developed. Usually, our skin is always surrounded by fungi and bacteria, infection occurs when the fungi overgrow under moist and humid areas. Some of the causes of Onychomycosis include:
- Poor hygiene
- Communal infection through public restrooms, swimming pools, gyms, etc
- Inadequate sanitization of equipment like nail cutter, clippers, filers, etc
- Infection due to cosmetics
- Diseases like athlete’s foot, ringworm, etc.
- Fungal overgrowth due to health conditions, skin infections, etc
How is Onychomycosis diagnosed?
Onychomycosis is a common condition that can start to show the symptoms in the form of ragged and brittle nails that are turning yellow in colour. Although, the infection can be felt and seen by the person on their own, Onychomycosis diagnosis can be confirmed only after a visit to the doctor. The doctor conducts a series of tests to confirm the kind of infection.
- Physical Examination – The dermatologist physically examines the fingernails or toenails to understand if it’s a fungal infection or any other condition
- Lab Tests – Scrapping of the infected nail is taken as a sample to study the fungi and understand the infection and severity of it.
- Skin Test – Often a small sample of skin around the nail is also taken to study the fungal infection and identify it
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How is Onychomycosis treated?
Onychomycosis treatment is based on the type of fungal infection and the severity in which it has affected. It can take months to cure the infection entirely. Doctors undergo a variety of treatment methods to find what suits a patient.
- Over the counter medications – Doctor prescribes Medicine for Onychomycosis to cure the infection from within. The medicines like Itraconazole (Sporanox) and terbinafine (Lamisil) are advised to help the nail grow infection-free and slowly replace the infected nail. These medications take time.
- Medicated creams – Doctors prescribe medicated creams and nail polish for Onychomycosis cure. These are to be applied topically over the infected area.
- Surgery – In worst cases, when the nails have crumbled to their last stage and turn to be extremely painful, doctors advise removal of nails through surgery so that infection can be cured and new nails can grow infection-free.
How can Onychomycosis be prevented?
Prevention of Onychomycosis can be done through a series of simple and healthy practices. These include:
- Taking good care of fingernails and toenails by keeping them trimmed and clean always
- Saving from any injury in or around the nails
- Maintaining hygiene around you
- Sanitizing nail cutters, trimmers, etc timely
- Sanitizing, and maintaining hygiene when in public places
- Reducing the use of nail polish, artificial nails, etc.
- Getting manicures and pedicures from trusted and sa