Nail fungus is fingernail or toenail that is infected by bacteria due to fungus growth, the medical community calls it tinea unguium or onychomycosis. Currently about 30 million Americans are affected by nail fungus.
Fungi tend to grow on dead organic materials – such as skin and hair, it can also thrive on nails. Toenails are more vulnerable, because they are located in a closed environment, for example, inside tight shoes. Shoes provide dark mini habitat where tiny organisms, including fungi get a better chance to grow, especially if the climate is hot and humid or if the person perspire heavily. A trauma or injury to a nail may also make fungus more likely to grow.
There are a few things people can do to prevent nail fungus, especially on elderly or on those with diabetes. The first line of defense is to ensure both hands and feet clean and dry. Others thing you should do are:
- Make sure your nails are reasonably short
- Wear good socks, synthetic materials are preferable when you’re walking on wet areas, as it can keep feet dryer longer than socks made from wool or cotton
- Use foot powder or antifungal spray for feet
- Wear gloves when washing or using a lot of waters
- Don’t pick skin around the nails as it can expose tissues under the nail to fungi
- Don’t walk barefoot in wet and dirty places
- Make sure the manicure and pedicure procedures are performed properly with sterilized equipments
- Don’t use nail polish and artificial polish too often, as they can trap moisture
- Don’t touch infected nail too often with other fingers, as infection may spread
- Exercise regularly and eat healthy food to maintain a solid immune system
When you take prescribed drugs, all advisories and precautions must be heeded, especially if side effects can potentially happen. Diabetics must maintain a more rigorous dietary control to encourage desired healing effects. Nail fungus can also spread to caregivers if precautions are not obeyed. People who care or bath an affected individual must wear gloves at all times.
If a person is suspected to have nail fungus, the doctor or nurse will take a nail sample from the affected area for further examination. After the type of fungus has been identified, the doctor can prescribe the most effective treatment. Close and careful observation is necessary to a person who is suspected to have nail fungus. After a positive diagnosis, treatment should be performed as soon as possible to prevent permanent damages to nails or secondary infection on the skin around or tissue under the nail. If nail fungus is untreated, infections may spread to other nails and if the person doesn’t follow a correct treatment procedure, infections may recur when the condition is favorable for fungus growth.
Doctors prescribe antifungal medicines to treat nail fungus effectively. Common medications for nail fungus are terbinafine (Lamisil), fluconazole (Diflucan) and traconazole (Sporanox). These are oral drugs and effective on about 50% percent of patients. They will ensure that the new growing nail won’t be unaffected by fungus infection as it slowly replaces damaged, infected nail. These medicines are taken for two to three weeks, however, it may take about four months for the nail to completely replace all damaged nails and rid the infection. On more severe cases, nails should be removed and special medication is prescribed. It may take one whole year for the nail to return to its original state.
Antifungal Nail Polish
The doctor may also prescribe Penlac (ciclopirox) or an antifungal nail polish. It’s painted on the affected nail and the skin around the nail once a day. After seven days, the accumulated polish layers are removed with alcohol and new layers of polish are applied for the next one week. It is proven to be effective on 10 percent of the cases and may take one year for the affected nail to heal completely.
OTC antifungal ointments and creams are usually ineffective to remove the fungus completely. Some doctors suggest that OTC creams with some urea in it can be effective when taken in conjunction with oral drugs. Urea can speed up medication absorption on areas around the nail, thus can help in eliminating infection.
Some people rely on vinegar hand or foot baths as a home remedy, some researches show that certain home remedies techniques can inhibit the growth of organisms around the nails. Among the most effective formula is a mixture of two parts warm water and one part apple cider vinegar. Soak the affected toes or fingers on the mixture for about 20 minutes, it is very important to completely dry your fingers or toes after the bath with towel, if necessary use a hair dryer at the lowest settings. You can also use mentholated ointments and rub it on your nails. Although anecdotal evidences are positive, no controlled researches can ascertain the treatment effectiveness. However, before performing an alternative procedure, it is necessary to talk with your doctor or related medical professionals.
People with diabetes should treat nail fungus as quickly as possible, to prevent the condition from spreading or becoming more severe. Because diabetics have poor oxygen flow and thus have problem in healing sores or wounds, they are vulnerable to serious consequences of infections. On severe cases, infected toes or fingers must be amputated to prevent the infection from spreading to other part of the body, which can be life-threatening.
At this time, there are no specialized treatment program for nail fungus other than medications mentioned above and herbal remedies. Patients should eat properly and exercise regularly to boost the immune system, thus speed up healing. Appropriate diagnosis and medication are necessary to successfully treat nail fungus, in the meantime precaution should be exercised to prevent the condition from spreading. Overall, the outlook of healing nail fungus is good if patients agree to follow the doctor’s prescriptions, but often it can take months to achieve a complete recovery. Healed patients are risky individuals, as relapse is more likely to happen on them. However, with enough precautions, it can be prevented.