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There are many species of fungi that can affect nails. By far the most common, however, is called Trichophyton rubrum. This type of fungus has a tendency to infect the skin (known as a dermatophyte) and manifests in the following specific ways.

Starts at the ends of the nails and raises the nail up: This is called "distal subungal onychomycosis." It is the most common type of fungal infection of the nails (90%). It is more common in the toes than the fingers. Risk factors include older age, swimming, athlete's foot, psoriasis, diabetes, family members with the infection, or a depressed immune system. It usually starts as a discolored area at a corner of the big toe and slowly spreads toward the cuticle. Eventually the toenails will become thickened and flaky.

Starts at the base of the nail and raises the nail up: It is called "proximal subungal onychomycosis." This is the least common type of fungal nail (3%). It is similar to the distal type, but it starts at the cuticle (base of the nail) and slowly spreads toward the nail tip. This type almost always occurs in people with a damaged immune system.

Yeast onychomychosis: This type is caused by a yeast called Candida and not by the Trichophyton fungus named above. It is more common in fingernails and may be the most common cause of fungal fingernails. Candida can cause yellow, brown, white, or thickened nails. Some people who have this infection also have yeast in their mouth or have a chronic paronychia (see above) that is also infected with yeast.

Where does fungus come from?

No one knows where a specific person catches the fungus, as it is everywhere. However, since the fungus does thrive in warm moist areas (like sweaty feet), there are certain areas one should avoid or use with caution. Shower floors, locker rooms, and swimming pools are suspected of being sources of the fungus, although there are no studies proving this fact. Nail polish and acrylic nails also make the nail less "breathable" and make the nail more susceptible to fungal infection. Fungi are everywhere—in the air, the dust, and the soil. Hygienic measures such as spraying socks and footgear sound sensible, and perhaps these measures can even help a little bit. However, avoiding tight, non-breathing shoes or steering clear of athletic floors may very well be the best prevention available. Daily washing of the feet and drying between the toes can help to prevent nail fungus. The fungi carried on the coats of pets, like cats and dogs, don't often cause nail fungus. Wearing white socks also does not help.