What are fungal nails?
Fungal nails, also known as onychomycosis, is a type of fungal infection very common in toenails. Fungal infections cause nails to thicken, discolour, deform, crumble and split. As the changes are usually subtle and very slow to develop, it is common for people to overlook any fungal changes to toenails.
As well as being unsightly, fungal infections can become painful.
What causes fungal nails?
Risk factors that may put you at an increased risk of developing fungal toenails include:
- trauma to the nail (direct trauma or repetitive micro trauma such as rubbing from footwear)
- poor hygiene – not washing and drying feet thoroughly
- living in a warm, humid environment
- excessive sweating
- people with compromised immune system (diabetes)
- poor peripheral circulation
- prolonged wearing of enclosed footwear/socks
- working in a wet/damp environment
- ‘suffocating’ nails with nail polish
Communal showers and public swimming pools are notorious common breeding grounds due to high traffic of bare feet. Nail salons that do not sterilise their instruments are also culprits for spreading fungal infections.
How does a podiatrist treat fungal nails?
Most anti-fungal treatments work to inhibit the spread of the fungal infection. Toenails grow slowly, approximately 3mm a month, which is why it can take as long as 18 months to treat fungal nails while they grow out and are replaced by a new, healthy nail.
Unfortunately, re-infection is common, so it is important that you find the cause and mitigate your risk – so change to well fitted shoes, wear thongs in the swimming pool showers, change your nail salon etc.).
People with medical illnesses that compromise immunity (e.g. diabetics) can have more difficulty eradicating the fungus.
Qualified podiatrists are essential for ongoing care of fungal toenails
Podiatrist adhere to strict regulations that ensure their instruments are clean. At The Foot Group we use ultrasonic cleaners to clean the instruments of gross debris, and apply high steam and pressure via an autoclave to ensure our equipment is sterile and clear of any bacterial and fungal spores.
Additionally, only podiatry clinics with permanent clinics, such as The Foot Group in Lane Cove and Brookvale, have specialised equipment such as drills that are most effective in filing back tough, thickened nails that can be too difficult to cut with clippers alone. Efficient filing of the infected nail leads to better treatment outcomes and reduces the chance of re-infection.