Infections related to toenail fungus are fairly common conditions that affect approximately 10% of the American population. The fungus that invades your nail is a living organism that thrives in dark, damp conditions. While the fungus has the potential to occur in the fingernail, it is far more common in the toes because of the desirable environment of the foot. This fungus can live along side the nail, or under the nail; however, this may depend on many factors such as the progression or severity of the condition.
Many doctors have noted that in the beginning stages of this condition it is common for the fungus to live along side the toenail, and if left untreated slowly progress inward, or under the nail. Some symptoms at the beginning of this fungal infection include a white or yellowish spot on the nail; it is not a common occurrence to have pain at this stage of the infection. It is this lack of pain that often causes this symptom to be overlooked, therefore allowing the infection to progress.
The next stage of the infection is a bit more noticeable, although it can occur rather slowly. At first you may notice a dullness followed by a yellowing, and your toenail may actually change shape. This change in the shape of your toenail may actually be caused by the thickening and/or crumbling of the edges that occurs. This thick yellowing of the nail is often the trademark of the condition. At this stage of the infection most people experience some degree of discomfort, this may be associated to the fact that the toenail can actually separate from the nail bed.
When the condition progresses enough to result in a separation of the nail and the skin, exposing the nail bed, this can result in a serious infection. If you notice a foul odor, or pus oozing from the toe, it is imperative that you seek medical intervention to prevent a serious infection.
A common misconception is that the micro-organism that causes this infection is rare and only found in dirty places. This micro organism is not bias, if there is a warm damp environment to be found, than you can bet that there are spores there waiting to be picked up on some ones hands or feet. This interaction between you and the fungus usually takes place on a daily basis, the problem occurs when you give the fungus a desirable environment to live in.
The fungus that usually causes these infections is known in the medical community as dermatophytes. There are other causes of fungal nail infections such as yeast and mold however, dermatophytes are the most common cause. Certain factors may make an individual more susceptible to toenail fungus. These factors include:
- A malfunctioning immune system
- Peripheral artery disease
- Trauma to the foot that includes the toenail
- Abnormal skin PH
- Poor hygiene
- Previous fungal infections of the nails
Fungal infections of the nails are not life threatening or debilitating. However, these infections can become painful and affect self esteem, due to the appearance of the nail. Because toenail fungus can be difficult to treat, prevention is of the utmost importance. If you have concerns that you may have a toenail fungus contact your doctor, he or she can examine your toes and run some tests to give you a definite diagnosis.