Fungal nail infections are the cause of nearly half of all toenail problems. It’s quite common among elderly adults, 60 and above – about three out of four seniors have this problem, while just 1 of 5 younger people are infected. You could get an oral fungal nail fungal infection in your finger as well, but it’s more likely to appear on your toenails. If you think you might have an infection of the nails, see a doctor right away, because the longer the infection is left untreated the harder it becomes to treat.
There are two major types of fungal nail infections: one is the distal (distal) infection, and the other is the subungual onychomycosis. The distal infection is usually easily treatable with over-the-counter antifungals, and it often clears up within a week or so. The subungual infection, however, takes a little bit longer to clear up – it typically takes six months before the nail appears normal again. The reason for the delay is that it’s generally located inside the nail, under the nail’s surface, rather than on it. The subungual infection is very common type of fungal nail infection.
The typical symptoms of a fungal infection of the toenail are thickened and discolored white spots, sometimes called craters. The spots range from light brown to a darker red, and they tend to become less concentrated as the nail surface starts to heal. Occasionally, the white spots may actually begin to merge together and form a pattern. Nodules, which are somewhat like white spots, can also develop – these are called erythematous macular syndrome, or AMS.
You may also have pain or sensitivity to the area around the infected toenail. Other symptoms include toenail disintegration and thickening. It’s important to note that thickened and discolored nails don’t always mean that you have developed a fungal nail condition; sometimes these conditions are caused by irritation, over-exposure to the sun or water and a number of other factors. It’s also possible to have discolored nails without having developed a fungal infection. This is called media.
Your doctor may recommend that you take topical antifungals such as lacquer or local along with your regular nail treatments. If the infection doesn’t resolve or if it gets worse, your doctor may also suggest a topical retinoid for treating the affected nails. Retinoids help fight infection, reduce inflammation and speed the healing process. Common topical retinoids include tretinoin, adapalene and retinaldehyde. Topical treatments are typically applied once a day or as directed by your physician. They may be combined with your normal nail treatment, or you can choose to go it alone.
If your toenails turn yellow or black due to fungal infections, you may want to have them removed because they are more resistant to treatment. Although resistant nail infections may cause considerable discomfort, you don’t need to suffer with nail fungus. Once you visit your doctor, you’ll be able to learn about the best treatment options for your situation. Once your fungal nails are gone, they’ll never come back.