Fungal infections are common in nails, and occur most often in toe nails. Termed as onychomycosis, nail fungus affects the keratin, the hard material that makes up the nail and can include the entire nail or a portion of the nail, along with the nail root, plate or bed. It gradually leads to thickening, distortion and discoloration of the nails.
Fungi grow well in warm and moist environments so your risk of developing an infection is increased if you use public pools, wear shoes that make your feet sweat, or live in hot and humid places. Certain conditions such as athlete's foot, diabetes or psoriasis, poor general health, and a weakened immune system because of HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy and organ transplantation, may make you more prone to fungal infections.
When you present to the clinic with a fungal infection, your doctor may scrape debris from under your skin, cut the affected nail or drill a hole at the affected site, and examine the sample under a microscope to identify the causative fungus.
To treat nail infections, your doctor will prescribe oral antifungal medication, topical nail paint or nail cream. For severe infections involving pain, the affected nail is removed to allow the growth of a new healthy nail. Laser treatment may also be performed to destroy the fungus.
Nail infections can be prevented by wearing comfortable shoes and socks that provide aeration, maintaining good foot hygiene and keeping your nails trimmed short.