Fungal nails develop when tiny fungi called dermatophytes enter the nail bed, often through a tiny cut or another tiny opening in the skin. Once beneath the nail, they're protected from many types of treatments aimed at eradicating the fungal infection, and the warm and often damp environment are ideal for fungal growth. Plus, the body's blood supply to toenail beds is naturally limited, which makes it difficult for the immune system to fight off these infections. Fungus toenails are more likely to occur in men and women who have a family history of the infections, as well as those whose immune systems and circulatory systems are compromised, including people with diabetes. Outside the body, the fungus grows best in warm, damp environments like pools, locker rooms and showers. Walking barefoot, especially in these environments, can increase the risk of infection.
Fungal toenails typically begin as a small white or yellow spot beneath the nail, eventually spreading to include the entire nail and causing nail thickening as well as discoloration. The texture of the nail can also change, resulting in brittleness and a ragged surface and edges. Over time and without proper treatment, the infection can become painful, causing discomfort, especially when wearing shoes or applying pressure to the nail bed.
Oral and topical medications are both available to help fight off toenail fungal infections; often, a portion of the nail or the entire nail may need to be removed to enable the medication to be more effective. Infections can be stubborn, and treatment can take several months. You may decrease your risks of contracting a toenail fungal infection by using anti-fungal powder and trimming your nails straight across instead of in a curved shape.
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