Patient Education

Onychomycosis (Fungal Toenails)

Toenails will often become thick as an individual grows older. Thickening may occur as a result of a fungal infection, medical condition (psoriasis or hypothyroidism) or trauma to the toenail, such as when it repeatedly hits the end of a shoe that is too short. Sometimes when something is dropped on the toenail, the nail will fall off. When a new toenail grows back it will often be thicker than it was previously. Those who have problems with the thickness of their toenails should consult a podiatrist for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Onychomycosis (fungal toenails), is an infection underneath the surface of the nail caused by fungi. The toenail often becomes darker in color and smells foul. Debris often collects beneath the nail plate causing the toenail to become thicker. White marks can develop on the surface of the nail plate (white superficial onychomycosis). The infection is capable of spreading to other toenails, skin and fingernails. The resulting thicker nails are unsightly and can be difficult to trim.

Injury to the nailbed is considered the most common cause for developing onychomycosis. People who suffer from chronic diseases, such as diabetes, poor circulation, or immunodeficiency conditions are also prone to fungal nails. Other contributing factors may be a history of athlete's foot, excessive perspiration or pedicures.

The earlier you seek medical treatment of onychomycosis, the greater your chance of resolving the fungal infection. You should visit a podiatrist when you initially identify any discoloration, thickening, or deformity of your toenails.

Preventative measures for onychomycosis include:

  • Proper hygiene and regular inspection of your feet is crucial.
  • Wash your feet with soap and water and dry thoroughly. Clean and dry feet resist disease.
  • Wear shower shoes when possible in public areas.
  • Change shoes, socks, or hosiery daily. Avoid wearing the same shoe daily to allow for proper drying.
  • Clip toenails straight across so that the nail does not extend beyond the tip of the toe.
  • Wear shoes that fit well and are made of materials that breathe.
  • Wear socks made of synthetic fiber that wicks moisture away from your feet.
  • Make sure pedicure instruments are disinfected.
  • Don't apply polish to toenails suspected of having a fungal infection (those that are discolored, for example).

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