Nothing makes you want to hide your feet from the outside world quite like a fungal toenail infection. Fungi under your nails can produce a host of unpleasant and embarrassing symptoms: yellowish discoloration, a thickened nail plate, a ragged and crumbly edge. No matter how much you hope and wish the problem will just go away on its own, the truth is that it won’t—at least not without some outside help.
One reason people get embarrassed by fungal nails is because it can produce a sense of shame. Many mistakenly believe that “normal” people who take good care of their feet could never contract a fungal infection, and therefore it must be their fault. However, this is not necessarily true! Fungal toenails are actually quite common, and while you can reduce your risk with good prevention strategies, you can’t always protect yourself or control when you might be exposed.
So, how did you get fungus under your toenails? In simple terms, the fungus found its way in when it came in contact with your feet.
The fungi that cause fungal toenails love environments that are dark, hot, and wet. The inside of shoes fit this description well, as do saunas, gyms, pools, locker rooms, towels, and the like. Unfortunately, the fungus can spread from one person to a surface or object, lie in wait, and then spread to you. If you go barefoot in public facilities or keep your feet inside sweaty shoes and socks, you put yourself at risk of contact.
One thing worth noting—conditions like athlete’s foot, ringworm, and jock itch are caused by the same types of fungi that can infect your nails. If you have any of these conditions, they can spread from one location to the other.
Fungi can enter through tiny, microscopic cracks in your nail or cuts in your skin, too small for you to see or feel. There’s not much you can do to prevent these microscopic openings from forming, so prevention strategies are mostly focused on reducing the likelihood of initial contact.
Factors that can magnify your risk of a fungal infection include:
- Conditions that reduce circulation to the toes or weaken your immune system, including diabetes.
- Advancing age—older adults tend to have slower circulation, not to mention they’ve had more opportunity to encounter fungus.
- Going barefoot in public.
- Using a public swimming pool.
- Not changing shoes or socks once they get sweaty.
- An injury to the skin or nails, including ingrown toenails
There are two important things to remember if you contract fungal toenails. The first is that you have nothing to feel ashamed about—even with good hygiene, this infection can still occur, and many people deal with it at one point or another in their lifetimes. The second is that, if you ignore it, it will only get harder and harder to treat.
That’s why you should make an appointment right away with Dr. Daniel Walters at his Garfield Ridge, Chicago podiatry office. Striking when the fungus is still relatively mild will greatly increase your chance of a satisfactory outcome, and greatly reduce the odds that the fungus will spread to other toes, other body parts, or other people. To schedule your appointment, give us a call at (773) 586-0050.