What Causes Toenail Fungus?

Are your toenails crusty, thick, or crumbly, and yellow or brown in color? While unsightly toenails can be embarrassing, they’re not merely a cosmetic condition. Onychomycosis, or toenail fungus, causes your toenails’ appearance to change and can spread to your feet causing athlete’s foot.    

At Arlington/Mansfield Foot & Ankle Centers, our experienced team of providers offers effective treatment for toenail fungus to patients in our state-of-the-art offices in Arlington and Mansfield, Texas. If you’re one of the 20% of Americans suffering from a toenail condition, you may be wondering what’s causing it and how you can get rid of it. 

Our providers identify the underlying cause of your toenail fungus and provide expert treatment so you don’t have to keep your feet covered and hidden away. Since onychomycosis doesn’t usually resolve with at-home treatments, it’s important to get a professional diagnosis and start treatment as soon as possible.

Read on to learn what causes toenail fungus and what you can do about it!

What causes toenail fungus?

Keratin is a naturally occurring protein that is found in your skin, hair, and nails. Toenails are made of two different types of keratin: hard and soft. The fungi that most commonly cause onychomycosis are called dermatophytes

These fungi use the keratin in your nails to grow and multiply and make onychomycosis highly contagious. They thrive in warm, moist environments, and are frequently transferred to your feet when you’re exposed to sweat or go places, like gym locker rooms, saunas, or public showers. 

When dermatophytes find their way to your feet, they consume the keratin in your nails by breaking it down. The result is keratin debris that creates a crumbly residue in your nails as part of the toenail fungus. 

You’re more likely to develop toenail fungus if you have a condition that makes you more susceptible to foot problems, like diabetes, circulation problems, psoriasis, or a weakened immune system. 

Are there ways to prevent toenail fungus?

No one is immune to developing toenail fungus, but you can take steps to prevent fungal infections by protecting your feet in public spaces. Here are some preventive measures you can take, starting today:

Don’t go barefoot

When you’re in public places that are susceptible to dermatophytes, don’t go barefoot! Keep your feet covered with sandals or water shoes to reduce your risk of coming in contact with the fungus that leads to onychomycosis. 

Wash and dry your feet

Anytime your feet are sweaty or wet, take time to wash and dry them thoroughly. Pay special attention to the area between your toes, and change your socks frequently if you have especially sweaty feet. Foot powders can help absorb excess moisture.  

Keep nails trimmed and straight 

Keeping your toenails trimmed short and straight prevents sharp edges that might knick your nail bed or become ingrown, which makes you more susceptible to fungal infections. Be sure to disinfect your nail clippers after each use since the fungus spreads easily. If you get pedicures, be sure the nail salon disinfects their tools and tubs between customers.

Choose breathable footwear

Since dermatophytes love moist, warm places, choosing breathable footwear and socks made from natural materials helps reduce your risk of developing onychomycosis. You’ll also want to make sure your shoes aren’t too tight and that your toes have space so they stay dry. 

When should I see a podiatrist for toenail fungus? 

You should never wait to see a podiatrist if you suspect you have toenail fungus. Fungal infections are notoriously difficult to treat, and the longer you wait, the more time the fungus has to spread. 

Your provider at Arlington/Mansfield Foot & Ankle Centers evaluates your condition and makes recommendations for treatment based on your unique symptoms and overall health. Treatment frequently begins with topical medications. If the topical treatment isn’t effective, your provider may prescribe oral antifungal medications. 

The podiatrists at Arlington/Mansfield Foot & Ankle Centers provide another effective treatment to get at the root of toenail fungus: the HyperBlue PLUS® laser treatment system. With HyperBlue PLUS, the laser beam travels through your toenail to kill the fungus without damaging your nail or surrounding skin.

You may need more than one laser treatment session to eliminate the fungus. After your treatments with HyperBlue PLUS are finished and the fungus is dead, your nail clears away the damaged nail by growing out with new nail keratin.

If your nails are crusted with keratin debris, your podiatrist may remove it to improve the appearance of your nails. In severe toenail fungus cases, toenail surgery may be required to temporarily remove the infected nail so the nail bed can be treated directly.  

Take the first step toward fungus-free feet by contacting the Arlington/Mansfield Foot & Ankle Center office nearest you or requesting an appointment online now!

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