The Risk Factors, Common Causes, Prevention and Treatment of Nail Fungal Infections
Nail fungal infections are a very common dermatological condition that is said to affect anywhere from two to eighteen percent of the world’s population. These fungal infections, can cause moderate to severe discomfort, discoloration and disfigurement of both fingers and toes, though they are more prevalent in toenails.
Fungal nail infections are not painful nor do they pose an imminent threat to an individual’s overall health, however if left unchecked and untreated, they can be become debilitating to the point of being a liability to a person’s social interactions.
The Risk Factors of Fungal Nail Infections
Fungal nail infections can affect any individual on this planet, regardless of their age, sex, race, or ethnicity. However, there are certain factors which act as predecessors to the ailment and can be said to increase the risk of an individual acquiring a fungal nail infection, either in their fingernails or toenails.
Some of the more common risk factors associated with fungal nail infections are outlined below:
- Being above the age of 60 – old age causes slowed circulation, delayed nail growth and more exposure to fungi over the years, increasing the likelihood of acquiring a fungal infection
- Sweating profusely
- Smoking frequently
- Having diabetes or any other disease that reduces blood flow or creates circulation issues
- Frequently swimming or spending time in a sauna, especially one which is publically used
- Having a weakened immune system due to diseases such as HIV
- Continuously wearing tightly fitted shoes for long hours, everyday
- Wearing gloves frequently
- Having a history of wearing artificial nails for long periods of time
- Having a career that necessitates having moist fingers or toes for an extended duration
- Walking barefoot in or around a damp communal area such as school/hospital showers, gyms or swimming pools.
- Having cancer and receiving chemotherapy
- Recovering from a recent organ transplant
- Having suffered from athlete’s foot or any other skin condition caused by fungi
- Having a nail injury
- Having an injury around the nail or a recent nail surgery
- Suffering from other dermatological conditions such as psoriasis.
It is noteworthy that fungal nail infections are contagious such that a person who comes in contact with an affected individual might also contract it. Furthermore, fungi tend to grow in warm and moist environmental conditions which is why the likelihood of spread of fungal infections is quite high from nail salons that fail to properly disinfect their tools and instruments.
Common Causes of Fungal Nail Infections
Fungal nail infections are known to be caused by three different types of fungi. These fungi either act alone or in combination with one another to cause the various sub-types of fungal nail infections. The three types include:
- Dermatophytes – This type of fungus – most commonly found trichophyton rubrum- affect the nails, hair and skin. Mostly superficial, this fungus does not penetrate deep within the layers of the skin or nails but is quite contagious, such that one can get infected if one comes in contact with clothing, floors, carpeting, or nail tools.
- Mold or Non-Dermatophytes – The fungus known as mold is most commonly found in the soil where it grows and thrives. This type, though not contagious amongst people, can still grow on hair and nails but is usually caught from the soil itself.
- Yeast – Candidal fungal infections are caused by the fungus Candida or yeast which is commonly present on the human body. This fungus can affect the skin and the nails. The use of medication such as birth control pills or anti-biotics can cause an overgrowth of yeast in the body, leading to a fungal nail infection.
Fungal nail infections can easily be prevented by doing the following:
- Avoid sharing nail tools and accessories such as filers and clippers
- Ensuring that the hands and feet are kept dry and clean at all times
- Keeping the nails clipped and clean
- Avoiding the frequent use of artificial nails
- Avoid walking barefoot in communal areas such as public swimming pools, saunas, gyms, locker rooms and showers
- Visiting a hygienic nail salon that guarantees the use of sterilized nail treatment instruments.
Treatment Options for Fungal Nail Infections
Fungal nail infections, though not painful or debilitating in most cases, can be particularly difficult to treat once someone has been affected.
There are a number of different treatment options used by doctors today to treat fungal nail infections. These include:
- Use of topical anti-fungal agents such as Amorolfine 5% Nail Lacquer and Ciclopirox 8% Nail Lacquer
- The use of oral anti-fungal agents such as Terbinafine 250 mg, Itraconazole 200 mg, or Fluconazole 300-450 mg for Toe nails or 150-300 mg for Finger nails that are specifically prescribed by the doctor.
- Chemical debridement or removal of the nail
- Surgical debridement of the nail or the complete surgical removal of the nail from the nail bed.
- Laser treatment
- Photodynamic therapy to irradiate the fungal hyphae and kill them
- Iontophoresis or the use of electric current to remove the fungus
- Ultrasound therapy
Fungal nail infections, especially those that have been left unchecked to progress to moderate or moderately severe stages are particularly difficult to treat. It can easily take anywhere from a few weeks, months to even years to successfully treat the onychomycosis completely, such that there is a complete eradication of the fungal growth from the nail bed. To improve prognosis and treatment success, a combination of any of the above mentioned treatment options is used, depending on the type of the fungus and the severity of the condition.
- American Academy of Dermatology . (2017, August 16). Nail Fungus . Retrieved from American Academy of Dermatology Web site : https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/contagious-skin-diseases/nail-fungus
- Davis, C. P. (2016, February 2). Fungal Nail Infection Onychomycosis (overview). Retrieved from E Medicine Health Web Site: http://www.emedicinehealth.com/onychomycosis/article_em.htm#fungal_nail_infection_onychomycosis_quick_overview
- Ghannoum, M., & Isham, N. (2014). Fungal Nail Infections (Onchomycosis) : A never-ending story? PLoS Pathogens .
- Han, K. M. (2017 , August 16). Introduction to Fungal Nails . Retrieved from Medicine Net Web site : http://www.medicinenet.com/fungal_nails/article.htm#what_are_fungal_nail_symptoms_and_signs
- WebMD. (2017, August 16). Fungal Nail Infections - Symptoms . Retrieved from WebMD Web site: http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/tc/fungal-nail-infections-symptoms
- Yellow Toenails Cured. (2017, August 16). How to Recognize The Early Signs of Toenail Fungus . Retrieved from Yellow Toenails Cured: https://www.yellowtoenailscured.com/early-signs-of-toenail-fungus/
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