Nail fungus is a condition when a microscopic fungus enters a nail and then spreads inside to form a fungal infection. Also, known as tinea unguium and onychomycosis, nail fungus can occur in the fingernails as well as toenails.
In most cases, the infection begins as a yellow or white spot on the tip of the nail which slowly spreads and then eventually leads to massive discoloration of the nail. The nails eventually become thick and break off. It is as ugly as it is painful and needs medical attention. It takes time to cure and is prone to recur in many people but with the right medication you can get significant relief.
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Nail fungus can affect anyone at any age though majority of sufferers are above 60 years of age. Other than the seniors, those who suffer from immune disorders or diabetes could easily be affected by serious fungal nail infection.
While almost 10% of adults suffer from this condition, over 90% of elderly (above 60 years of age) definitely suffer from nail fungus which is responsible for 50% of all nail abnormalities.
The nail fungus can attack the nail as well as the skin under the nail which is called the nail bed. A small cut in the nearby skin or through the opening through the nail edges may lead to fungus formation.
For most people it is the unseemly appearance that is more bothersome in the beginning than the thought of a serious infection. For a healthy person it could be limited infection and a discolored nail but for those who are suffering from immune disorders this could be the start of a severe condition by itself.
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Even for a healthy person, the right medication at the right time is important. Ignoring it will only lead to intensifying the problem. Over time, nail fungus can become quite painful leading to severe nail damage.
As the fungus spreads the thickened nail will begin to press against the shoes which will lead to added pressure, pain and irritation. With increasing damage the nail looks uglier which often leads to people hiding their nails from public eye.
This is not just a physical problem but could lead to serious social and psychological problems as well.
Symptoms of nail fungus –
- Thickened nails
- Nail getting brittle, ragged or crumbly
- Dull nails lacking any shine or luster
- Distorted nail shapes
- Debris buildup under nails leading to dark discoloration
- Pain in severe cases
Nail fungus or onychomycosis usually come in subtypes. The condition is usually a combination of two or more these subtypes.
- Candidal onychomycosis – There are two types of candidal onychomycosis. Onycholysis where presence of Candida yeast causes the nail to separate from the nail bed. And chronic mucocutaneous disease which the fungus attacks and affects the nail plate as well as the nail fold of both finger and toenails.
- DLSO or DSO – distal lateral subungual onychomycosis – This is the most common form of the infection. The fungus spreads from the skin to the underside of the nail leading to inflammation as well as pain.
- PSO – proximal subungual onychomycosis – This is rarest form of all the subtypes to occur. In this case the fungus first attacks the cuticles and then enters the nail plate through the folds.
- WSO – white superficial onychomycosis – This is also a rare form where the fungus first attacks the nail surface and then proceeds to the nail bed.
- EO – endonyx onychomycosis – Though not as common as the DLSO, the EO also occurs quite frequently. In this case too, the fungus enters the nail through the surrounding skin but then it proceeds to immediately affect the nail plate.