Nail Fungus… more than just a nuisance

Written by: Dan Pelton

If a survey was released to determine the three or four least glamorous things in the world, there is a strong possibility nail fungus would be among them.

Nail fungus, clinically known as onychomycosis, is a condition that usually begins as a white or yellow spot under the tip of the fingernail or toenail. As the fungal infection spreads deeper, nail fungus may cause your nail to discolour, thicken and crumble at the edge.

There is also a problem of public perception; insofar as people tend to view nail fungus as more of a nuisance than anything else. Therefore, the severity of the condition is often downplayed. After all, there is no unsightly discolouration that a coat of nail polish or a good pair of socks won’t cover up. This is not the right attitude to have. If you dismiss nail fungus as just another inconvenient blemish, you do so at your peril.

A severe case of nail fungus can be painful and may cause permanent damage to your nails. It can also lead to other serious infections that spread beyond your feet if you have a suppressed immune system due to medication, diabetes or other conditions.

Untreated fungus can spread, which could lead to other complications. Athlete’s foot is one example. Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection of the feet by the same types of fungi that infect the nails. It most often occurs when fungi are allowed to grow and incubate in moist conditions, like the insole of a shoe.

Hasinah Shaqiq, D.Pod.M, a registered Chiropodist / Foot Specialist with the Caledon and Kleinburg Foot Clinic & Orthotics, points out that nail fungus can act as a gateway for more serious conditions to enter the body.

“It can result in bacterial infection which can be very serious,” she says. “The fungus cannot kill you, but bacteria can.”

Hasinah adds that masking the fungal condition with polish, or hiding it in a pair of socks, will only add fuel to the proverbial fire. “They make things even worse. They are not allowing the nail to breathe.”

There are a number of homespun nail fungus remedies that are ineffective, but appeal to those who wish that every problem has a quick and simple fix.

For example, there is the belief that menthol-containing lotions, such as Vicks Vaporub, will get rid of the condition. They may soothe and provide comfort, but the problem will remain. Vinegar can be a useful fungus fighter, provided the condition is not too serious. Soaking the feet for 10-15 minutes daily in a vinegar bath has been known to help the infection to subside. While vinegar baths may lessen the condition, they will rarely, if ever, get rid of it. To seriously combat nail fungus, one should consult a medical professional.

For a severe infection, your doctor can give you an antifungal oral medication to be taken for as long as 12 weeks. Drugs such as terbinafine (Lamisil) and itraconazole (Sporanox) have been reported to work best to help a new, healthy nail grow in to replace the infected one.

Hasinah, meanwhile, points to new and valuable technologies. “At Foot Clinic & Orthotics we use a laser treatment for fungus,” she says. “It is pain free and it involves a minimum of three treatments (over a three to four-month period).” Another advantage of laser treatment over oral antifungal medication is that the latter might have side effects on the body that won’t be caused by laser.

Patient receiving laser treatment on toenail, close-up. Fungal infection on the toenails. Onychomycosis treatment at clinic with medical laser

Regardless of what treatment method is used, results are not going to be immediate. Fungal nail infections can be difficult to treat and each case has its unique characteristics. Treatment depends on the severity of the condition and the type of fungus. It can take months to see results and, even if your nail condition improves, repeat infections are common. The goal of treatment is to have a healthy new nail grow and replace the infected one. This process can take anywhere from 12 to 18 months.

While fungal nail infections are not especially contagious, they can be transmitted from person to person in the home and high-risk areas such as: showers, sharing nail clippers, sharing footwear, locker rooms and public pools. Factors that predispose one to be more susceptible to the infection are: trauma, tight footwear or too loose of footwear, increased sweating, history of athlete’s feet, walking barefoot in public places, reduced blood flow, diabetes and a weak immune system. Treating your nail fungus and limiting exposure, can help you avoid transmitting the infection to others.

Therefore, it is always best to take practical measures to protect your feet and nails.  Such as clipping toenails when they are long with properly sanitized nail clippers and making sure to cut them straight across.

Wear properly fitted shoes that are not too tight or too lose.  A good rule of shoe fitting is 12mm space between your toes and the end of the shoe. “Breathable” footwear is also recommended. The more air that’s able to circulate around your feet, the drier and less susceptible to toenail fungus they will be. Shoes made of a breathable material like leather or canvas are considered the best.

It is also wise to alternate shoes. Putting on shoes that are still damp from yesterday’s sweaty workout will only increase the risk of a toenail fungal infection, so invest in a few good pairs and rotate them.

Disinfect regularly. Scrub your shower and disinfect it with a bleach-based cleanser says Hasinah. Spray your footwear that you wear often with an anti-fungal spray, especially if they have been worn without socks, and wash all socks in hot water. Also wash your feet daily, making sure to thoroughly dry them afterward, especially between the toes where moisture can get trapped.

If one visits a nail salon, it is a good idea to observe how the staff takes care of their tools.

Caledon and Kleinburg Foot Clinic & Orthotics deploys an autoclave machine that puts foot care instruments through a steam sterilization process. “Fungal spores can only be killed through a high steam sterilization process of 132 degrees Celsius,” mentions Hasinah.

In essence, pay attention to the condition of your nails and consult a professional if you feel a fungal problem is present. If you talk the talk, your healthy feet will walk the walk. So call us to book your appointment today at one of our locations nearest you: 905-860-1600 (Caledon) & 905-552-3668 (Kleinburg).

Author: Living Spaces

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