The Fungus That Eat's Your Toenails

Toenails that appear yellow, thick and brittle usually have little to do with personal hygiene. If your nails seem discolored and thicker than usual, you may have a toenail fungus.

Although you may be alarmed at the appearance of your nails, toenail fungus, which is also referred to as onychomycosis, is relatively common. Each year, about five percent of people in the U.S. suffer from a toenail issue. Here is a bit of information about toenail fungus to help you better understand this condition.

What Causes Toenail Fungus?

Toenail fungus is often caused by the same fungus that causes athlete's foot. This type of fungus is referred to as a dermatophyte because it feeds on the infected toenails or skin of the foot.Toenail fungus, like other types of fungus, thrives in moist, dark environments. As a result, your moist foot, which is likely confined for hours within a shoe, provides a perfect home for fungal growth.Even if your feet seem dry, they are constantly releasing moisture. There are approximately a quarter of a million sweat glands in your two feet. The seemingly minor secretions from these glands can equate to about half of a pint of water each day.

Toenail Fungus Can Affect Anyone 

Toenail fungus is not relegated to a specific age, gender or socioeconomic class. It is not even dependent on regular hygiene efforts.

Nevertheless, some people have an increased risk of developing toenail fungus. These people include:


Athletes may be regularly exposed to toenail fungus in the gym or locker room. Additionally, they may experience regular trauma to the nails of their toes from the activities in which they engage. Chronic trauma may increase their susceptibility to a fungal infection.

Elderly People

The immune system of an older person may not work as efficiently as it once did. As a result, an elderly person may be more likely to develop toenail fungus.

Sick People

A person who has a chronic illness may also have a reduced immunological response. Consequently, the person's body may not fight a fungal infection as effectively.

What Are the Signs of Toenail Fungus? 

A toenail fungus changes the appearance of the nail. Toenails that are infected with a fungus may display the following symptoms:

  • White, chalky appearance
  • Brown or yellow discoloration beneath the toenails
  • Thick mounds of toenail material near the end of the toe
  • Toenails that lift up at the end
  • Toenails that split easily

Although a toenail's appearance may seem to indicate a fungal infection, a proper diagnosis of the condition requires a toenail biopsy. During the procedure, the podiatrist snips a small portion of the nail to have it tested. The test involves the use of a specialized stain that reveals the presence of a fungus. Other conditions that may mimic the look of a toenail fungus include psoriasis and nail trauma. In addition, some types of skin cancer that may occur beneath the toenail may look like a fungus.

Toenail Fungus May Be Avoidable 

A fungal infection can be stubborn. Even if it is treated, it may recur if certain precautions are not taken. Here are a few things that you can do to help lessen your chance of developing a nail-based fungal infection:

  • Avoid pedicures that are performed using shared instruments. If you do decide to pamper yourself with a professional pedicure, bring along your own tools or choose a provider that sterilizes the tools via an autoclave.
  • Buy new emery boards regularly. Replacing old emery board and other disposable nail tools can discourage fungal growth on the instruments.
  • Use alcohol to clean your nail clippers. Alcohol should kill any fungi that are present on the clippers.
  • Remove sweaty socks. Instead of keeping sweaty socks in place throughout the day, exchange them for clean, dry socks periodically.
  • Purchase sneakers that are a half size too big. If you work out regularly, be sure that your sneakers are roomy enough to avoid foot trauma as you exercise.
If you believe that you have a toenail fungus, contact our foot and ankle clinic to schedule an appointment. The prompt treatment of the condition is important.