What is Nail Fungus & How to Know if You Have It

What is Nail Fungus & How to Know if You Have It

Reviewed by Dr. Kate Shuster, a board-certified dermatologist at Galen Dermatology

Nail fungus is a relatively common condition that affects an estimated 3-12% of the population. It is more likely to occur in people that are older. Nail fungus begins as a white or yellow spot under the fingernail or toenail. As the nail infection grows, it might cause your nail to discolor, thicken and crumble. The typical symptoms of nail fungus are the following:

  • Thickened nail
  • Whiteish to yellow-brown discoloration
  • Brittle, crumbly, or ragged
  • Distorted in shape
  • A dark color caused by debris build-up under your nail
  • The nail or nails smell slightly foul

How do you contract nail fungus?
A microscopic organism known as fungi is the cause of nail fungus. People usually pick up the fungus after having skin-to-skin contact with an individual who has a fungal infection. This can happen if you share shoes with someone that has a nail fungus infection. While contact is the primary way to pick up the fungus, your lifestyle can also impact your chances of developing a nail fungus infection. If you are a smoker, spend a lot of time in the water, or often walk barefoot in hot and humid places, you have an increased risk of developing a nail fungus.

Treating Nail Fungus
There are a few different ways to combat nail fungus. One of those ways is to apply medicine to the affected nail or nails. The medication helps to keep the fungus out of the nails while the nail is growing. Another way to treat the infection is nail removal. If nail fungus is left untreated, treated with medication but shows no improvement, or is a severe infection nail removal is the next treatment option. Nail removal can be done through two methods, non-surgical or surgical. During the non-surgical method, a chemical is applied to the infected nail and takes a few weeks to remove the affected nail. Your dermatologist can  perform both forms of nail removal in the office or a clinic. Having your nail removed does not mean it will not grow back.

Tips to Prevent Nail Fungus 
Here are some tips to help you minimize your chances of a nail fungus infection.

  • Keep your feet clean and dry
  • Sanitize your nail clipper before using it
  • Keep your nails short
  • Keep your feet dry and cool
  • If you have finished treating nail fungus, throw away any footwear you wore before you started treatment.
  • Wear flip-flops or sandals when walking in warm, moist areas.
  • Put on a clean pair of socks every day and change your socks out when they get sweaty.
  • Alternate shoes
  • Sprinkle antifungal powder in your shoes
  • Never share nail clippers, shoes, skates, towels, and other personal items.
  • Moisturize dry skin
  • Wear shoes that:
    - Fit well
    - Are leather, canvas, or mesh
    - Keep your feet dry and cool

Having nail fungus is not life-threatening but is not something to ignore. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above or have nail fungus, contact our office, and schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified dermatologists. Our dermatologists will observe your nails to determine the best treatment plan for you. Call our office at (423) 954-9017 to schedule a consultation today!