Nail Fungus: Disfiguring and Difficult to Treat

W. Steven Pray, PhD, RPh, Professor of Nonprescription Products and Devices, School of Pharmacy, Southwestern Oklahoma State University, Weatherford, OK

US Pharmacist. 2001;26(10) 

In This Article

Patient Information: Fungus of the Nails

Common fungal skin infections include ringworm of the body, jock itch and athlete's foot. Most people are fairly familiar with their appearance, and know that nonprescription products can easily cure them. However, fungus in other areas is less common and cannot be self-treated.

Among these are tinea capitis (ringworm of the scalp) and onychomycosis (tinea unguium, or fungal nails). Nail fungus affects as many as 30 million Americans, adults more than children. The overall incidence is more common than most people realize because many who experience it take measures to hide its presence. In men, the toenails are the more common site, whereas fingernails are more common in women. Factors that make you more likely to be a target include having an occupation or hobby that requires you to keep the hands or feet wet for long periods. Of course, the feet are natural targets since many people shower in the morning, placing their half-dried feet into socks or hosiery, then encasing them inside shoes for the next 16 hours. The residual moisture from the bath or shower does not evaporate during the day, and contributes greatly to the growth of fungi.

How Did I Get Nail Fungus?

The initial fungus of a toenail infection was probably contracted through walking in a location where an infected person walked before you. It may have invaded the skin as athlete's foot, eventually moving to the nails. For this reason, it is risky to walk barefoot in any location where other people's feet have been. This includes water parks, the areas around public or private swimming pools, locker rooms, public showers, or even the bathtub/shower stall in any hotel or motel. Instead, purchase a pair of sandals, water shoes, or "flip-flops."

What Does Nail Fungus Look Like?

Most people have the infection on the outer ends of the nail(s). The nail seems to become thicker in the beginning.

As the fungus eats the nail, it produces brown-to-yellow debris on the lower surface of the nail, which lifts the nail from its nail bed. The entire nail may be lost. Normally, the nails are shiny, with the healthy pink skin showing through. With fungal infection, the nails appear dull and chalky-white. The white discol-oration obscures the pink skin beneath. The nail becomes brittle, flaky and crumbly.

How Can I Prevent Nail Fungus?

Keeping the nails clean and dry is the best defense against nail fungus. For instance, remove your shoes and let the feet and nails dry out completely whenever possible.

Also, make sure that both feet are completely dry after the morning bath or shower before donning footwear. Socks should be changed frequently. The same pair of shoes should not be worn day after day. You should have several pairs of shoes and rotate them constantly to allow each pair to dry out thoroughly before they are worn again.

What Do I Do About Nail Fungus?

No self-care is appropriate for treating nail fungus. You must see a physician to receive a prescription treatment as soon as it is convenient to do so.

Remember, if you have questions, Consult Your Pharmacist.

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