What is Toenail Fungus?
The term toenail fungus is also referred to as onychomycosis of the nail plate, and tinea of the nails. Fungal nail infections can occur on both toenails and fingernails, but the toenails are more commonly affected. A fungus is a living organism that breeds in moist, dark and warm environments such as shoes and socks underneath and around the nails, which is why the toenails are more susceptible than fingernails, and most commonly it is the big or small toe that is involved.
What Causes Toenail Fungus?
Toenail fungus can be contracted in damp environments such as public showers, gyms, locker rooms, spas or swimming pools. People who wear tight-fitting shoes or hosiery that is too tight are not only more susceptible to a fungal toenail infection but also to candida or thrush. Nail fungal infections can spread from one person to another and from one toe to another, or to other parts of the body.
Diagnosing Toenail Fungus
The symptoms and signs of toenail fungus may be mild or severe. The affected nail may have a yellowish or brownish discoloration, swelling, thickening or crumbling of the nail. In addition, streaks or spots may appear on the side of the nail, and debris may collect underneath the nail. The nails appear unsightly and may also be painful.
Factors that increase contracting a fungal toenail infection
There are certain factors that increase your chances of contracting a fungal toenail infection:
* Poor hygiene of the foot
* Not drying feet after washing or exercising
* Physical trauma to the nail
* Abnormal pH (acid balance) of the skin
* Weakened immune system
* Underlying medical conditions such as diabetes or Candida
Treating toenail fungus is difficult because it is generally a recurring condition. There are a wide variety of over-the-counter anti-fungal creams available, but some can be overly harsh and rid the body of the ‘good’ bacteria needed for systemic balance thus increasing vulnerability to fungal infections in the future.
Your health practitioner or podiatrist may prescribe oral anti-fungal medication to stop the infection. While these medications may work in the short-term, they may also rid the body of intestinal flora and bacteria that are beneficial to the body, creating further problems.
Natural treatments such as herbal and homeopathic remedies have proven to be highly effective in treating fungal infections. Herbs such as Cymbopogon citratus (lemon grass) are well known for its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties while Calendula officinalis acts as an anti-inflammatory. In addition, herbs such as Melaleuca laterifolia, also known as Tea Tree Oil and Lavendula officinalis (Lavender) have excellent anti-fungal and healing properties and can also do a lot to help soothe irritated areas.
Ways to prevent fungal toenail infections
The best way to eliminate persistent toenail fungus is through prevention. Follow these helpful tips to prevent fungal toenail infections:
* Wear protective shoes or sandals in public facilities
* Wash your feet regularly and remember to dry them thoroughly
* Wear cotton socks so that your feet are well ventilated
* Eat a high protein diet so that you can maintain healthy, strong nails
* Do not share socks, shoes or sandals
* Trim toenails but do not cut them too short
* Avoid wearing nail polish on toes if you have developed toenail fungus
* Disinfect pedicure tools