Also referred to as onychomycosis and tinea unguium, nail fungal infections are the most common diseases of the nails, making up about 50% of nail abnormalities. Both fingernails and toenails are susceptible to the issue, which often manifests as discoloration and thickening in the nail and crumbling edges. The condition most commonly occurs in toenails.

Between 6 to 8 percent of the adult population is affected with nail fungus infection.

Who gets nail fungus?

Nail fungus tend to be more common in men than women and in the elderly compared to young. Additional traits or factors that raise one’s chance of nail fungal infection include the following:

  • Diminished blood flow.
  • Slow growing nails.
  • A genealogy and family history of fungal infection (genetics).
  • Heavy perspiration.
  • Humid or moist work environment.
  • Wearing socks and shoes that prevent ventilation.
  • Walking barefoot in damp public places (swimming pools, gyms and shower rooms).
  • Previous injury or infection to the skin or nail.
  • Diabetes, AIDS, circulation problems, a weakened defense mechanisms.
  • Tight footwear with crowding of toes.
  • Exercise that causes repeated minor trauma towards the hyponychium (where the finger tip attaches to the nail).

What can cause nail fungus infections?

Nail fungal infections are generated by microscopic organisms called fungi that do not require sunlight to live. Most commonly, a group of fungi called dermatophytes (for example Candida) accounts for nail fungal infections. However, some yeasts and molds also cause these infections.

Though Trichophyton rubrum is the most common dermatophyte that causes nail fungal infections, Trichophyton interdigitale, Epidermophyton floccosum, Trichophyton violaceum, Microsporum gypseum, Trichophyton tonsurans, and Trichophyton soudanense could also make the infections. Common mold causes include Neoscytalidium, Scopulariopsis, and Aspergillus.

Pathogens that cause nail fungus infection usually enter in the skin through tiny cuts or small separations between the nail and nail bed. The fungi grow if the nail provides a suitably warm and moist environment.

What are the signs of nail fungus infections?

Nails that are have contracted fungus typically are thickened, brittle, crumbly, ragged, distorted, dull, and darker or yellowish in color. An individual may also experience onycholysis, where infected nails separate from the nail bed. Sometimes, nail fungal infections result in pain in the toes or fingertips, and they may even emit a little bad smell.

Another symptom connected with nail fungus infections are fungus-free skin lesions called dermatophytids. These could be rashes or itchiness within an area of the body that is not contaminated with the fungus – much like an allergic reaction.