Fungal nail infection (also known as onychomycosis) is an infection of the fingernails or toenails by fungi, also known as dermatophytes.
The infection usually starts along the outside rim of the nail,
which turns whitish-yellow, brown or green.
The mycosis spreads into or underneath the nail plate, causing it to
thicken. The nail becomes brittle and may separate partially or completely from the nail bed, which can be very painful. In some cases the infection results in permanent loss of the nail.
Dermatophytes (fungi) are usually found in warm, humid places such
as bathrooms, changing rooms and communal showers in health clubs,
gymnasia, swimming pools, Turkish baths, etc.
These are the areas in which fungal infections most frequently occur.
Athlete’s foot, another type of fungal infection that infects
the skin between the toes, is very contagious and may also cause
one or more nails to become infected.
Nail fungus not only looks unhygienic but it can be contagious, spreading from one nail to another, but also from one person to the other. Therefore it is crucial to treat nail fungus as soon as symptoms are apparent and the pathology has been diagnosed.
Nail fungus does not disappear by itself !
Left untreated it will increasingly get worse.In the worst case the infection can result in the complete loss of the nail.
Do I have a fungal nail infection?
If you notice the presence of white spots or patches on your nail, or if the nail is turning yellow, growing thicker or becoming brittle, you probably have a fungal nail infection.
Fungal nail infection (onychomycosis) is a progressive disease: if it is left untreated, the infection spreads.
To start with, you may only see white spots or patches on the nail. They only affect the cosmetic appearance of the nail: initially there is no pain. Gradually the fungus spreads throughout the nail. Unless it is treated, it can become (very) painful, and you run the risk of losing the nail permanently.
Contamination: dermatophytes (fungi) thrive in warm, humid environments. They can spread from one fingernail or toenail to another, and from one person to another.
Environments with a high risk of contamination include: showers, changing rooms, trainers and sports shoes, socks, Turkish baths, etc.
If your nail is showing symptoms like the ones in the photographs below, you may have a fungal nail infection. Consult your chemist or pharmacist immediately.
Onychomycosis affects a large proportion of the population. Research indicated 33% of the population suffers from nail fungus*
The incidence increases with age: onychomycosis is rare in children, but increases significantly in people aged 35 to 59 and is very common in people aged 60 and over.
The condition affects men and women alike.
Most cases of fungal nail infection affect the toenails, especially the big toe; it occurs but is much less common in the fingernails.
Fungal nail infection is the most common form of nail infection and is responsible for half of all nail-related problems.
The warm, humid environment in shoes provides ideal growing conditions for nail fungus.
Source: Untiedt Research – 1278 people from 16 to 74 years old – UK – January 2011
The microorganisms that cause onychomycosis – usually dermatophytes – penetrate microscopic fissures in the nail plate, or enter through the soft tissue around the edges of the nail.
Strong, healthy nails protect the tips of fingers and toes from infection.
If your nails are cracked, naturally fragile, or weakened as a result of an injury or trauma, it is easier for dermatophytes to infect a nail.
Dermatophytes grow in warm, humid environments such as bathrooms, changing rooms, swimming pools, trainers or sports shoes etc., which is why these environments pose a relatively high risk of contamination.
Tips for preventing fungal nail infection :
- Change your socks every day, and wash them at temperatures above 60°.
- Wash or clean your shoes regularly. Choose shoes that allow your feet to breathe and avoid shoes that make your feet sweat.
- After washing and rinsing them thoroughly, dry your feet carefully and dry each toe separately.
- Wear sandals or suitable footwear in changing rooms and communal showers at e.g. health clubs or swimming pools.