Toenail Fungus – Symptoms, Causes and Complications
Toenail fungal infections are one of the most common infections that humans are susceptible to. Also known as Onychomycosis and Tinea Unguium, toenail fungus is nothing more than a build-up of microscopic fungi underneath the toenail, which makes its way into your system through small cracks an cuts on, or around the toenail.
Fungal infections can develop on both your toenails and your fingernails, but toenails are far more likely to host these unwanted fungi, for a few reasons. First of all, the dark and damp environment that your feet spend the majority of their day basking in is the perfect breeding ground for fungus and other bacteria. Coupled with the fact that the decreased blood flow to this area of the body reduces the effectiveness of your immune system, it’s no surprise that the toenails are the prime target for fungal infections.
The majority of toenail fungus will not cause pain, but in some cases, the area can become sensitive to touch, making it difficult to get around without discomfort. Luckily, toenail fungus infections are easy to diagnose, and the symptoms are obvious enough for you to know when you are dealing with toenail fungus.
Toenail Fungus Signs and Symptoms
The onset of a toenail infection is a slow process and will happen unknowingly for weeks or even months before you start to see any symptoms. The first symptom to look out for is a small yellow or white dot underneath the body of the nail. This is the starting point of the infection, and overtime the fungus will grow and spread, leading to the more common symptoms of toenail fungus which include:
- Discoloration of the infected nail, usually a dark yellow, bordering on brown in some extreme cases.
- Unusually thick and oddly shaped nails.
- Sensitive to the touch. The pain can become debilitating as the infection worsens.
- Loss of shine. Nails should be visibly shiny. Infected nails are dull.
- Unpleasant odor in some cases.
- Toenail separating from the nail bed.
The majority of fungal infections can be treated directly at the source with a topical treatment, which we will discuss in more detail later in the article. If you are currently suffering with any of the aforementioned symptoms, it may be time for you to start considering your options.
What Causes Toenail Fungus?
Scientifically speaking, toenail fungus is caused by one or a combination of Dermatophyte fungus, yeast and mould. These fast-growing bacteria will thrive in warm, moist environments such as saunas, swimming pools and showers. Public swimming pools and showers are hotbeds for infection causing fungus as well as unclean bath mats.
Wearing the same boots or shoes for work is another common cause of fungal infections, especially boots and leather shoes. By not providing your feet the room to perspire and ‘breath’, you are increasing the likelihood of a fungus growing inside of your footwear. Every time you wear your shoes to work, you are exposing your feet to the fungus, and it doesn’t take much for the infection-causing culprit to find its way into your system.
The fungus is microscopic, which means it can find its way into your system through the tiniest of cracks or cuts on, or around the nail. Once the fungus has found a home on the bed of your toenail, the constant shade that your feet are exposed to from your socks and shoes gives them everything they need to grow and spread.
Some people are more susceptible to developing a toenail infection. Young, healthy individuals are far less likely to suffer from toenail fungus, but that doesn’t mean they are immune. Fungal infections can creep up on anyone, but your chances of developing an infection are greatly increased if you are:
- Male (Of course, Women can develop toenail infections too, but men are more likely)
- Suffering from a weakened immune system
- Living with people who are already infected
- Spending a lot of time in water
If you suffer from athlete’s foot (Tinea Pedis), the chances of you developing a toenail infection is increased significantly, as the infections are closely related and are caused by similar forms of fungus, mould and yeast. If you find that you can relate to a lot of the bullet points previously mentioned, it may be worth keeping a close eye on your overall hygiene, diet and lifestyle. We will discuss more preventative measures later in the article.
What Are the Complications of Toenail Fungus?
Developing an infection of any kind is never a fun experience, especially one which can ultimately cause serious damage to the part of the body that gives us our freedom of movement. In the early stages of a toenail fungal infection, the complications are few and far between. However, as the infection begins to develop and the toenail begins to change color, harden and emit an unpleasant odor, it can be extremely embarrassing to expose your feet in public. Fungal infections are contagious, so it can be hard to speak openly about it without embarrassment and a knock to your self-esteem.
Toenail fungal infections can also become incredibly painful, making it difficult to put pressure on the infected foot without a severe level of discomfort. The fungus can easily spread from your toenail to the surrounding skin, causing an increased risk of Cellutitis as well as an increased difficulty to walk.
In severe cases, when the fungi has spread beyond the infected toenail, amputation could be the only potential treatment option. It is rare, but it happens. If you are currently suffering with diabetes or a weak immune system (medication, smoking, poor lifestyle choices and other illnesses can cause your immune system to perform poorly) the chances of the toenail infection spreading to other parts of your feet are increased due to the lack of blood flow to that area of the body.
Fortunately, with all of that being said, there are several options available to treat fungal infections at the source before anything serious has the time to develop. Continue reading for an in-depth breakdown of the available treatments, remedies and preventative measures.