An infection of nail fungus occurs when fungi infect one or more of your nails. A nail fungus infection may begin as a white or yellow spot under the tip of your fingernail or toenail. As the fungus spreads deeper into your nail, it may cause your nail to discolor, thicken and develop crumbling edges — an unsightly and potentially painful problem.
An infection with nail fungus may be difficult to treat, and they often will recur. That makes it all the more important to find a reputable toenail fungus treatment and begin as soon as you become aware that you indeed have a toenail fungus infection.
You more than likely have a nail fungus infection — also called onychomycosis (on-i-ko-mi-KO-sis) — if one or more of your nails are:
- Brittle, crumbly or ragged
- Distorted in shape
- Dull, with no luster or shine
- A dark color, caused by debris building up under your nail
Infected nails also may separate from the nail bed, a condition called onycholysis. You may feel pain in your toes or fingertips and detect a slightly foul odor. Fungi are microscopic organisms that don’t need sunlight to survive. Some fungi have beneficial uses, while others cause illness and infection.
Nail fungus infections are typically caused by a fungus that belongs to a group of fungi called dermatophytes. But yeasts and molds also can be responsible for nail fungal infections.
All of these microscopic organisms live in warm, moist environments, including swimming pools and showers. They can invade your skin through tiny invisible cuts or through a small separation between your nail and nail bed. They cause problems only if your nails are continually exposed to warmth and moisture — conditions perfect for the growth and spread of fungi.
Toenail fungus conditions occur more often in toenails than in fingernails because toenails are often confined in a dark, warm, moist environment inside your shoes — where fungi can thrive. Another reason may be the diminished blood circulation to the toes as compared with the fingers, which makes it harder for your body’s immune system to detect and eliminate the infection.
Nail fungus is more common among older adults for several reasons, including diminished blood circulation and more years of exposure to fungi. Also, nails may grow more slowly and thicken with age, making them more susceptible to infection. Cases of toenail fungus tend to affect men more often than women, particularly those with a family history of this infection.
Other factors that can increase your risk of developing toenail fungus include:
- Perspiring heavily
- Working in a humid or moist environment
- Having the skin condition psoriasis
- Wearing socks and shoes that hinder ventilation and don’t absorb perspiration
- Walking barefoot in damp public places, such as swimming pools, gyms and shower rooms
- Having athlete’s foot (tinea pedis)
- Having a minor skin or nail injury, a damaged nail or another infection
- Having diabetes, circulation problems or a weakened immune system