Fungal nails

This refers to an infection of the nails, often caused by the same fungi which are responsible for fungal infections such as athlete’s foot. This infection is far more common than you think and mainly affects the over 55’s. But younger people can develop this especially if they congregate in damp environments such as changing rooms.

A fungal nail infection affects the toenails more than the fingernails. But in both cases it causes thickened, discoloured nails which are soft and crumbly. This may cause bits or the entire nail to fall out leaving a painful, swollen area.

Causes of fungal nails

Fungal nails often develop at the same time as a fungal infection such as athlete’s foot. This occurs if the infection is left untreated or not properly cared for which allows it to spread. It also develops if the sufferer scratches their infected toes which enable the fungus to spread to their nails.

Other causes include:

  • Broken, chipped or cracked nail
  • Constant washing of the hands which can damage the skin around the base of the nail, leaving it vulnerable to infection.
  • Smoking
  • Weak or poorly functioning immune system
  • Living in a hot or humid climate

But there are times when a fungal nail infection occurs for no reason at all.

Symptoms of fungal nails

The most obvious sign is a greenish-yellow nail which is thicker than normal and painful to touch. It looks unpleasant but is relatively painless. However, it can worsen, causing the nail to crack and crumble which leaves white patches in the missing areas. The remaining bits of nail are soft and crumbly and at risk of falling out.

If left untreated the infection spreads, eventually destroying the entire nail. This is extremely painful especially if it is the toenail that is affected as it causes problem with walking or putting any weight on the toe.

Diagnosing fungal nails

This is easy to diagnose. Your GP will be able to do this imply by looking at the infected nail. But he/she may take a small sample of the infected nail which is sent away for laboratory analysis and confirmation of a diagnosis.

Treatment for fungal nails

Mild cases of fungal nails, particularly those which only involve a small nail can be left to heal on their own. Many people opt for this rather than undergo months of treatment which doesn’t always guarantee a cure.

But if your symptoms worsen or the nail becomes painful then see your GP. It is a good idea to do this if you suffer from a chronic condition such as diabetes or already have a fungal infection on another part of the body.

Also see your GP if you have a poorly functioning immune system or about to undergo chemotherapy.

Your GP will prescribe antifungal medication – Itraconazole or Terbinafine tablets although it will depend upon the type of cause of the infection. These medications can cause side effects in a small percentage of people so ensure that you follow the instructions carefully. See your GP if you experience any adverse affects from taking these.

Another option is an antifungal nail varnish which you apply to the infected nail. But this is only effective when applied to the bottom part of the nail. It is less effective if the infection has developed in the skin around the nail.

If all else fails, then removal of the nail is the only answer.