How Toenail Fungus Develops

by | Apr 30, 2017

When you look down at your feet, you should expect to see clear, healthy nail tissue. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. There are times when what you see instead is yellowed, thickened, and distorted toenails. The root cause of this problem is a fungal infection, which raises the question – how does toenail fungus develop?

That’s an important question because understanding the cause of fungal toenails is the first step in being able to prevent it from happening.

If you take a minute and consider all of the possible issues that can arise in your lower limbs—and given the number of bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments that sustain tremendous amounts of pressure, a lot can happen down there—yellowed toenails might not seem terribly important. After all, they don’t cause intense pain like plantar fasciitis or keep you from your favorite activities like Achilles tendonitis does.

That isn’t to say you aren’t affected by unsightly toenails, though. For starters, this can be an embarrassing condition, one that makes you self-conscious every time you are barefoot. Beyond embarrassment, this condition is an infection. If you have a disease that compromises your immune system—like diabetes–this becomes a definite concern.

Microscopic 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. They can also be caused by a general mold or yeast infection in the toenail. Whether fungus, mold or yeast, all of these infections are created in warm, wet environments.

Places such as gyms, locker-rooms, hot-tubs, saunas, steam-rooms, swimming pools and showers, are hot-beds for these types of fungal infections. Just walking barefoot can cause you to get a fungal infection.

The dark warmth of your shoes and socks, particularly if you are sweating in your shoes, is also the perfect breeding ground for fungal infections. People are particularly vulnerable to fungal infections when they have tiny cuts between the nail and nail bed, as this opens the area up for the fungus to thrive. Toes are more vulnerable to infection than fingernails because of a lack of circulation in the area, as compared to the hands.

Anyone can get a toenail fungal infection, but older adults are more at risk due to a greater lack of blood circulation to the feet. Additionally, as we age, our nails begin thicken, which 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.

Risk factors that increase the likelihood of nail fungus includes diabetes, trauma to the nail, poor personal hygiene, athlete’s foot, hyperhidrosis, peripheral vascular disease, continual exposure to water and conditions involving immunodeficiency.

If you recognize the signs of toenail fungus—dull, discolored, and distorted nails—come and see us here at Wisconsin Foot Center. We provide treatment for a wide array of lower limb problems, including fungal toenails.

For more information about fungal nails, or to request your appointment with our Hales Corners office, give us a call at (414) 425-8400.

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