Fungal nail problems are not uncommon - and while they can be unsightly and uncomfortable, usually they are treatable.
Commonly, these problems are caused by a fungus spreading in, on or under the nail into the nailbed. The fungus may infect a broken or injured nail, or it may spread from a nearby skin condition. And with toenails, this can include such things as athlete's foot.
Toenail fungal infections can be picked up by walking barefoot in public changing rooms, pools and showers.
The fungus thrives in warm and moist conditions, so basically anywhere where we walk barefoot is an ideal environment for the fungus to spread from person to person.
People involved in sporting activities such as running may be at a higher risk of a fungal toenail infection because they often damage their toenails.
As well, wearing running shoes means that the feet are often exposed to warm, moist conditions.
Fingernail infections are also more of a problem for people who frequently have wet hands, such as cooks and professional cleaners.
However, generally some people may be more prone to fungal nail problems.
The risk factors include if you:
. Have diabetes;
. Have problems with your circulation;
. Have a problem with your immune system;
. Wear footwear that is closed-in, has poor ventilation, and doesn't absorb sweat;
. Work in a humid or moist environment;
. Have constantly moist skin, often due to excessive sweating.
People over 60 are also more at risk.
The good news is that these infections are treatable. Talking to your community pharmacist about the options available is a good way to start. But you need to be patient as treatment can take a year and may include taking antifungal medicines, using antifungal nail paints, and at times removal of the infected nail.
Early treatment may prevent damage to or loss of the nail and treatment at any stage may reduce discomfort and improve the nail's appearance.
The reality, however, is that fungal nail infections can be difficult to treat, and can recur following successful treatment.
The rate of treatment can be frustrating. Nails (especially toenails) grow slowly, so it can take up to a year for the appearance of the nail to return to normal, even if treatment is successful.
Fingernail infections can generally be cured more quickly and effectively than toenail infections.
Regardless of where the infection occurs, using the right medicine is important.
Knowing what to look for if you think you may have a nail infection is important.
Fungal nail infections can cause a variety of changes in the affected nail, including:
. White or yellow spots or streaks under the tip of the nail;
. Nail thickening and roughness;
. Brittle, crumbling nail edges;
. Nail discoloration (nails may turn white, yellow or brown);
. Separation of the nail from the nail bed;
. Pain and tenderness.
Of course, prevention is always better than cure and there are ways you can help protect against contracting an infection, especially if you have risk factors or walk barefoot in some public areas.
Steps you can take to help are:
. Making sure your feet are dried properly;
. Keeping your toenails short;
. Wearing clean socks;
. Wearing open-toed shoes;
. Wearing footwear in public showers and bathing areas;
. Not sharing nail scissors;
. Using an antifungal spray in your shoes;
. For fingernail infections, protect your hands from moisture when doing wet work by wearing waterproof gloves.
Information supplied by the Pharmacy Guild of Australia.