Nail Fungus

A brief look at some of the problems that can affect our nails.

My sister loves manicures and pedicures. She often goes to the salon to have her nails shaped and coloured every week. Recently, she noticed that one of her fingernails which had broken off was not healing. She went to a doctor who told her she had a fungal infection of the nail. Do our nails get infections?

It’s possible for any part of our bodies to be afflicted by disease, and our nails are no exception. Our nails can be affected by diseases that affect the nails themselves (local diseases) or diseases that affect the entire body (systemic diseases).

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Some diseases which affect our nails locally include:

* Fungal infections
* Bacterial infections
* Ingrown toenails and many more

Some diseases which affect our nails as part of a systemic (whole body) disease include:

* Iron deficiency anaemia
* Psoriasis

Why do people get fungus infections of the nails? Is it through sharing of manicure or pedicure equipment?

Fungal infection of the nail is called onychomycosis (onycho = nail, mycosis = fungal infection). It is the most common nail problem. Most people don’t recognise it because it doesn’t cause any pain for years and years.

It appears as a progressive change in your nail’s colour and texture – for the worse. Your nail becomes darker, uglier and altered. Fungus is often coloured, so some parts of your nail may become green or white or yellow or black.

Onychomycosis is caused by the infecting fungus underneath the surface of your nail. Debris may collect underneath your nail plate and become foul-smelling. Your nails may manifest white marks and become thicker. You may find them difficult to trim. Your nails may become so thick and unwieldy that they may impair your putting on your shoes normally. Walking may even become painful.

This fungal infection, most commonly affecting your toenails, can spread to other toenails and your fingernails and even to your skin.

Yes, sharing of manicure and pedicure equipment which has been used on someone with fungal nails and not disinfected properly is a known cause.

Are going to nail salons then dangerous?

If you look at life this way, life itself is dangerous – yes. Everything you do in life always has a risk and it’s not possible to avoid risk completely.

But most of the problems dermatologists see associated with nail salons are from the use of acrylic glues to hold artificial nails in place. This glue can cause redness, irritation, swelling, itchiness and pain.

My mother said I can get fungal infections of the nail if I walk around barefoot. Is this true?

Unfortunately yes, your mother is right. If you walk around damp areas such as locker rooms, swimming pools and common shower areas, fungal infection can spread. You have to especially watch out if your nail bed has an injury.

People with diabetes, psoriasis and immune problems are especially prone to getting fungal nails.

Is it possible to treat nail fungus?

Yes. There are oral antifungal drugs which can be quite effective in treating fungal nail infections. You can also apply topical (on skin) antifungals.

If your nail is too far gone, the dermatologist may need to do debridement or cleaning up of the debris. In severe cases, your nail may have to be removed. But don’t worry, it will grow back.

What are ingrown toenails? Why do nails ‘grow inside’?

Ingrown toenails are the most common nail impairment. This happens when your nail has corners or sides which dig painfully into your nail grooves when they grow, causing inflammation.

Most of your toenails grow straight out. But sometimes, their corners and edges can curve inwards. The big toe is the most commonly afflicted.

Ingrown toenails can occur for a number of reasons :

* When you don’t trim your nails properly. You should be cutting your toenails straight, not rounding their corners in the name of fashion. And you should be using proper toenail clippers, not scissors.

* Some ingrown toenails are simply an inherited trait.

* When you wear tight shoes that force your toenails to crowd together. Beware pointed tip shoes!

* When you keep on injuring your toenails through activities such as football or going about barefoot.

Is there any way to reverse ingrown toenails? Can I make my nails grow straight again?

Ingrown toenails are best treated by a dermatologist. The doctor can resect the ingrown portion of your toenail using chemicals, lasers or other methods.

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