Fungal Nail Infections
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The symptoms of a fungal nail infection may include:
- White, yellow or brown discolouration of the nail
- Thickening, scaliness and/or brittleness of the nail
- The nail may become distorted in shape
- There may be increased debris under the nail
The two main forms of treatment for fungal nail infection are nail paints and tablets. The first line of treatment will be the antifungal nail paint (Excilor, Curanail, Scholl Fungal Nail Treatment Pen). The advantages of these types of treatment are the application need only be applied once a week. Plus, there is no risk of experiencing the side effects associated with the oral antifungal tablets.
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These treatments usually work by stopping the growth of the fungus, the infection will then clear as your nail grows out. Depending on the severity of the infection, a fingernail can take up to six months to completely clear with a toenail potentially requiring up to nine to twelve months of treatment to completely clear. If your nails have become thick, it can help to file them down before treatment. This will allow the medicine better access to the infection.
Antifungal tablets treat fungal nail infections and are prescribed by a GP or nurse. The two most commonly prescribed antifungal tablets are Terbinafine and Itraconazole. These treatments are usually very effective, plus the have the added benefit of clearing up any other associated fungal infection at the same time, for example athlete’s foot. As with all medication there will always be a small risk that there may be side effects. The most common associated with antifungal tablets are; headache, nausea, diarrhoea, itching and a loss of the sense of taste.
For very severe infections that can’t be successfully treated by nail paints or oral tablets then surgery or laser treatment may be an option.
During treatment you should also follow the tips detailed below in the 'Prevention' section to spped up healing and prevent recurrence of your fungal nail infection.
There are several steps that can be taken to help prevent fungal nail infections.
- Try to avoid injury to the nail, as damage nails are more prone to developing an infection.
- Wash your hands and feet regularly with soap and water. Ensure to dry thoroughly, especially in between the fingers and toes.
- Keep your nails trimmed short and file down any thickened areas.
- If using a communal bathing or shower facility, wear footwear such as flip-flops to protect against picking up an infection.
- Try to avoid towel sharing as this can pass on the infection from one person to another.
- Replacing old footwear, which potentially could be contaminated with fungal spores.
- Wearing socks that absorb sweat; fabrics such as wool, nylon and polypropylene are effective at wicking away moisture.
- Using an antifungal spray or powder in your shoes and socks will help prevent an infection from developing.
- Try to avoid using nail polish and artificial nails as this can trap unwanted moisture, which will worsen the infection.
- Always wash your hands after touching an infected nail as the fungus can spread from nail to nail.
- Avoid trimming and picking at the skin around your nails as this can provide germs access to your skin and nails.
Can people with diabetes treat a fungal nail infection?
If you suffer with diabetes it is recommended that you consult your GP before treating a fungal nail infection. This is to ensure that there are no complications with your infection and that any treatment prescribed or purchased will be safe and effective for you.
Can I still apply nail polish to an infected nail?
It is advised that you do not apply nail polish to an infected nail. It will likely make any treatment you are using less effective and increase the likeliness of you spreading the infection to other nails as well.
Am I more likely to get a fungal nail infection if I have athlete’s foot?
Yes, it is thought that up to 90% of the fungus that causes the infection in athlete’s foot also cause fungal nail infections. Athlete’s foot is generally much easier to treat than a fungal nail infection so ensure you treat any case of athlete’s foot quickly to stop it spreading to a nail.
When should I go to the doctor if I suspect I have a fungal nail infection?
You should see your GP if you have a fungal nail infection that affects more than 2 nails, or if you are diabetic or pregnant. Children should also see their GP if a fungal nail infection is suspected.
Can I treat a fingernail or are the available treatments just for toenails?
No, most available treatments are suitable for use on fingernails and toenails. As fingernails are smaller they usually clear up quicker than toenails with treatment.
Will my fungal nail infection get better on it’s own if I chose not to treat it?
It is unlikely your nail will get better if it is left without treatment. The infection will likely get worse with the nail becoming thicker and more brittle. The earlier you start treatment, the quicker and easier it will be to get your nail back to full health.