OK, we know toenail fungus is not a fun category. It’s gross. It’s unsightly. It’s stubborn and miserable.
So let’s start off with a few fun facts on the more mushroom-y type of fungus!
- Did you know a fungus known as honey mushroom in Oregon is believed to be the largest living organism on the planet? It covers an area more than 1,665 football fields! It has grown unabated for thousands of years and ruins everything in its pa—
Wait, hold on. Maybe that one’s not so fun. How about this one?
- Did you know that there are about 75,000 fungal species we have named, but that may only be about 5 percent of all the species out there? We may not even know all the species yet that cause discolored, brittle growth all over our nail—
Sorry, we’re obviously not in the right mindset for this. There are many great things fungus does as part of our ecosystem, but infecting our toenails is not one of them.
Facts about toenail fungus may not be fun, but the more you know about the enemy, the better you might be able to prevent a case from developing—or get the treatment you need much faster and more effectively!
So, with that said, let’s shift gears and get to some facts on the nastier stuff.
One of the Fungi that Gives You Bad Nails Can Give You Something Else, Too
There is not just one type of fungus that causes brittle, unsightly nails. While the most common are dermatophytic fungi, yeasts and molds can also be responsible as (yes, they are also types of fungus).
Of dermatophytic fungi, one that is a frequent offender for toenail fungus can also cause a skin infection known as tinea pedis. If that sounds familiar, that may be because it also goes by the name “athlete’s foot.”
In fact, many cases of fungal toenails begin as a case of athlete’s foot. All it needs is an opportunity to get into the nail bed via any small opening (such as a cut or beneath the nail fold) and it will begin to roost there as well. It just becomes much harder to get rid of once it’s there!
What does this mean? When you develop a case of athlete’s foot, start treating it right away! The less time you give it to spread, the better your odds it won’t trouble your nails.
As a bonus tip, athlete’s foot fungus can also cause jock itch, as well as spread to your hands if you pick at it. Wash your hands often if you have the fungus!
The Older You Are, the More Likely You Are to Get It
While nobody is by any means immune to toenail fungus (unless you don’t have toenails), your risks of contracting an infection increase as you age.
Of the total population who have fungal toenails, about 20% are estimated to be over the age of 60, and 50% estimated to be over the age of 70.
Why is this? A few factors can be at play.
Toenail fungus thrives in warm, damp environments. Older individuals who have trouble drying off their feet after bathing can provide more opportunity for fungus to take hold. If they spend all day with their feet enclosed in warm, sweaty, shoes, that risk increases even more.
Older individuals are also more likely to experience poor circulation in their feet, which makes it harder for the body to combat infections of all types, including fungal. Nails also tend to naturally grow thicker with age, making an infection more likely to take root.
If you are older, or caring for an elder, it’s worth taking some precautions to watch for and try to prevent fungal infections. Make sure feet remain dry and you have more than one pair of shoes to wear through the week, allowing each pair time to air out.
Also be on the lookout for discoloration in the toenails. A fungal infection will often start out looking like white spots, with yellow or brown discoloration coming later.
You Can’t Avoid it with Nail Polish
There is still a common myth that you can protect yourself from fungal toenails by covering them up with nail polish. In fact, quite the opposite!
Nail polish and other direct nail coverings can help trap moisture against the nail. Fungus loves this! We’re not saying to avoid toenail polish altogether, but make sure to dry your feet fully before applying it, and give your tootsies time without it to air out.
An Injury Can Result in a Fungal Infection
If your toes are accident prone, or you’re a runner whose toenails frequently turn black and fall off, we’re sorry to say your risk of picking up a fungus is higher.
Any sort of damage that separates the nail from the nailbed provides fungus a better opportunity to sneak its way in. Even something as simple as a poorly fitting shoe that crams your toes together or up against the front of your foot can be a problem.
(Also, if you are a runner who suffers from black toenails a lot, that isn’t really a badge of honor as much as a sign you need different footwear. We can help you with that.)
The Fact Is, the Sooner the Better!
If you have a case of fungal toenails, it’s not going to go away on its own. The sooner treatment is started on an infection, the better the chances that it will fully clear up and allow new, clear nails to grow again!
At Heartland Foot and Ankle Associates, we have the treatments that can hit fungal toenails hard. From topical and oral medications to laser therapy, we can determine the best course of action for your individual needs.
Our Bloomington office is always happy to hear from you. Give us a call at (309) 661-9975 or fill out our online contact form to reach us.