What Increases the Risk of Fungal Toenails

by | Nov 21, 2017

When you look down at bare feet, what you should expect to see is healthy, clear toenails. Sadly, this isn’t always the case.

For some patients, they look down and see nails that are dull, darkened, and distorted. The darkened discoloration is probably an unsightly yellow – a sign of toenail fungus. Fungal nails can be the source of embarrassment and make someone rather self-conscious about walking barefoot or wearing open-toed shoes.

Before we go any further, it needs to be said that we obviously realize the Wisconsin winter—and this one could be a real doozy—isn’t exactly the scene for sandals and walks on the beach. As we mentioned in our previous post, though, you should be giving thought to undergoing fungal nail treatment now so your toenails aren’t embarrassing when the weather finally warms up.

Now, if you don’t have a case of fungal toenails—or you want to keep the condition from returning—you need to understand how the condition develops.

The starting point with this comes down to fungal spores.

The offensive fungi can find their way into the toenails under a variety of different circumstances. Usually, nail fungal infections occur when a type of fungus called a dermatophyte inhabits the nail. In general, people are more vulnerable to fungal nail infections when they have small cuts between nails and their nailbeds, as this opens an area for the fungus to make itself as home.

As a note, fingernails can sustain fungal infections, but toes tend to be more vulnerable because the circulation in the area isn’t as strong.

This might be cringeworthy to think about, but there are actually microscopic fungal spores pretty much all around us. We don’t realize it because the spores are, by very definition of the word “microscopic,” rather small.

That being said, there are some locations where fungus is more prominent than others. Since these spores require moisture, you won’t find a lot of fungi out in the desert. Warm, damp environments, though, are the ideal conditions for these tiny spores. Accordingly, indoor swimming pools, gym locker rooms, steam rooms, showering areas, and saunas can be (literal) hot-beds for the responsible fungi.

Typically, establishments like these have cleaning protocols that—when followed!—help to neutralize the threat of fungal contamination for patrons. This is the very reason you or your loved ones need to be careful when visiting nail salons. Make sure you inquire about their sanitization practices and do some observing of your own to make sure they are actually being used.

When we talk about things that can increase your risk of fungal toenails, walking barefoot in places like gym locker rooms, indoor pool decks, and communal showering areas all definitely make the list!

Of course, this can simply be the start of a full-blown fungal infection. Whereas you may pick up the fungus at these kinds of places, your footwear can contribute to fungal proliferation. This is important to keep in mind if you or your loved ones will spend lots of time in boots designed to keep your feet warm (which is important for preventing frostbite) (it’s a delicate balance, we know).

The dark warmth of your boots, shoes, and socks is the perfect breeding ground for fungal infections, and especially if your feet are sweating.

In addition to places you visit and what you wear on your feet, there are other factors that can increase your risk of fungal toenails. For example, older adults are more at risk than kids or younger adults due to decreased blood circulation to the feet. Another age-related matter is the fact our nails begin to thicken, which then makes us more susceptible to fungal invasion. Men tend to have a greater risk than women, and the propensity for fungal infections can actually be passed on genetically.

Some specific risk factors increasing the likelihood of toenail fungus includes diabetes, athlete’s foot, trauma to a nail (which creates an entryway for fungus), immunodeficiencies, and hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating).

No matter if you would like more information about the risk factors for fungal toenails or you need to request an appointment with Wisconsin Foot Center for professional treatment—and it’s important to know this condition will not go away on its own! —give us a call at (414) 425-8400.

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