Fungal infection, also known as “mycosis,” is a slow growing infection, caused by fungi (as implied by the name). Fungi are ordinarily present alongside bacteria, in or on our body, but certain conditions tend to cause an overgrowth, thus, resulting in an infection.
Onychomycosis or Tinea unguium is the term used for fungal infections that affect the fingernails or toenails as well as their nail beds. As their growth is very slow, immediate changes in the nails can’t be seen. The usual cause is providing a moist and warm environment.
Fungal nail infections can be acquired if one comes in contact with an infected person. Special care should be taken if one is a regular client at pedicure and manicure establishments, because tools like nail clippers, files, etc., used in these procedures, if infected, can spread this fungal infection to others. Generally, toenails are more commonly affected than fingernails because of the warm moist environment provided by wearing closed shoes.
Three different types of fungi, alone or in combination, are responsible for fungal nail infections.
Dermatophytes: It is the most common cause of nail fungal infection, especially that of toenails. It is present on skin, hair, and nails but it’s a superficial fungus and doesn’t affect the deeper tissues. It can spread if one comes in contact with Dermatophyte infected objects like clothing, shoes, nail clippers, nail files, shower and locker room floors as they are public places and can be easily contaminated.
Yeasts: They are normally present on the skin and nails of the human body. They are benign. But if due to any reason, like illness, antibiotics overuse or usage of oral contraceptives, where the immune system of the body is compromised, these fungi get the opportunity to overgrow and cause fungal nail infections.
Molds: They are also known as non-dermatophytes. They are usually present in the soil but they can grow on skin and nails as well. Person-to-person spread is usually not seen in this type of fungal infection.
Causes that Increase Risk of Fungal Nail Infection
- Wearing closed-toed shoes leading to hot and sweaty feet.
- Having damaged your nail or skin around the nail.
- Walking barefoot in public places, for example, locker rooms, gyms, and communal baths, or swimming in public pools, where the fungal spread is easy.
- Having a weak immune system.
- Having certain predisposing medical problems like diabetes, psoriasis or peripheral artery disease.
- Wearing artificial nails.