Most of us have little cuts on our feet that may be barely noticeable, but they’re enough for toenail fungus to enter the skin and the nail, turning the latter brittle, discolored, and unsightly. Generally, the fungus isn’t a serious medical condition, but it’s important that you seek treatment so it doesn’t spread out of control.
At Monroe Foot & Ankle Care, board-certified podiatrist Dr. Elliott Perel and our team see many cases of toenail fungus at our Jamesburg, New Jersey, office. One question we get asked a lot is if people can treat the fungus on their own. Here’s what our experts have to say.
Who gets toenail fungus?
Anyone can get toenail fungus, and it’s especially common in people over 60. Medical experts estimate it affects 1 in 10 people overall.
Your risk for developing toenail fungus increases if you have:
- Athlete’s foot (another type of fungal infection)
- Hyperhidrosis (extensive sweating)
- A toenail injury
- Poor blood circulation from peripheral vascular disease
- Psoriasis (an autoimmune condition)
- A weakened immune system
You’re also more likely to become infected if you walk barefoot in wet and warm public places, like locker rooms or saunas, since that’s where the virus lives.
What is tinea unguium?
Also known as onychomycosis, tinea unguium is a toenail fungus caused by a dermatophyte, a type of mold that needs the protein keratin to grow. Keratin is a major component of both your hair and nails, and for the latter, it’s what makes them hard. Dermatophytes are responsible for 90% of toenail fungus infections.
Tinea unguium changes the toenail’s appearance in the following ways:
- Appears yellow, white, or brown
- Appears chalky or cloudy in some areas
- Nail structure thickens
- Appears misshapen
- Separates from your nail bed (tissue underneath the nail)
- Cracks, breaks, or crumbles
Yes, toenail fungus is unsightly, but at least it usually isn’t painful.
Is tinea unguium contagious?
Tinea unguium, as with many types of toenail fungus, is contagious. You can spread it to someone else (or pick it up from someone else) through direct contact or by touching an infected surface.
Most toenail fungus rarely spreads beyond the affected toe, but some of the dermatophyte fungi spread easily to other parts of your body. When these fungi affect the skin, the condition is known as ringworm.
Toenail fungus may spread to:
- Other toenails
- Skin between your toes (athlete’s foot)
- Groin area (jock itch)
- Scalp (skin on top of your head)
- Fingernails (also made of keratin)
Different species prefer different areas of the body.
Can I treat toenail fungus on my own?
While most toenail fungi aren’t medically dangerous, they’re stubborn, and it may prove difficult to eradicate them at home. In addition, having a fungal infection, however mild, means that your immune system is compromised; a professional “once over” can go a long way toward recovering your health.
Depending on the type and severity of your toenail fungus, the team at Monroe Foot & Ankle Care might suggest:
- Topical creams or lacquer to paint on nails
- Oral medications
- Laser therapy
In severe cases, your provider might recommend removing the nail, and possibly the nail bed below it, to prevent a recurrence of the problem. They numb the area before they start so you don’t feel any discomfort during the procedure.
If you’ve got a case of toenail fungus and want to be rid of it, Monroe Foot & Ankle Care can help. To get started, give our office a call at 732-978-9569, or book online with us today.