Infection of the nails by fungus is common. The major problem with these infections is that the infection is not always diagnosed until it is too late. Many individuals do not recognize the infection and continue with some home made remedies until the nail is severely deformed. Fungal infections of the nail are common in environments where there is heat and humidity.
Such environments include swimming pools, locker rooms, saunas, gyms and exercise parlors.
The nail fungus is not the same as the one which causes athlete's foot although the two may occur at the same time.
Nail infections occur in at least 50% of individuals at some point in their life. These infections are even more common in the elderly. However, children are immune to nail infections. Nail fungus are generally more common in men than women. Some individuals have a resistance to fungal nail infections
Nails in the toes are more prone to infection than finger. This is because the toe nails are always confined to a warm humid environment inside the shoes. In addition, the compromised blood supply to the feet may be another factor.
Risk factors for nail infections include:
- exercise parlors
- swimming pools
- constrictive shoes or footwear
- trauma to the nails
- medical disorders like lupus and psoriasis
- lack of blood to the extremities
- wearing socks which do not absorb sweat
- excess sweating
Fungal infections of the nails are common in the elderly because these individuals may have decreased blood supply to the feet and the nails grow more slowly. The slow growth and thickening of the nails make them more susceptible to infection
When a nail infection occurs, the following features may be clues to the diagnosis:
- thickening of the nail
- changes in nail color
- deformity of the nail
- colored or white patches on the nail
- loosening of the nail from the bed
- brittle nails
Chronic paronychia (long standing nail infection)
Sometimes, the nail infection is not treated and the infection just continues. This is more common in individuals who are constantly exposed to water, such as food handlers and farm workers. When the nail is chronically infected, pus may occur and drain from underneath the cuticle. In most cases the nail is deformed, thick and partially broken.