It starts as a white, seemingly-benign spot on your toenail. Before you know it, the small white spot has gotten much worse and is starting to spread to the remaining toenails on both feet. The now yellowed, hardened nails are beginning to take on a noticeable odor and you’re embarrassed to wear sandals at the beach or pool. Left untreated, your toenails are exhibiting late stage nails fungus symptoms, and you probably wished you’d acted quickly when that first small spot was noticed. It’s more difficult, but still possible to treat severely infected toenails.
Your feet have more sweat glands per square foot than any other area of the body, making them an ideal breeding ground for the fungi, which generally belongs to the group dermatophytes. Think back to how much time your feet spend in shoes and socks. This closed, air-starved environment is the ideal situation for fungal infections to occur and spread. The infectious fungi also thrive in other moist environments, including locker room floors and swimming pools. Something as simple as a small cut or a tiny separation between your nail and the nail bed is enough to start the infection’s spreads.
There are also several risk factors associated with nail fungal infections:
- Advanced age, and the years of exposure to fungal infections, poor circulation and naturally-thickened nails that come with it, is a major risk factor for the infection.
- Working in a moist, humid environment or wearing shoes and socks that don’t absorb the excess perspiration effectively are also risk factors of the infection.
The early nail fungus symptoms include:
- White spot on one or more toenails.
- A noticeable hint of yellow or yellow streaks on the nails
- Mild discomfort you might even attribute to a stubbed toe.
It’s crucial that when these earliest nail fungus symptoms occur you visit your doctor or a podiatrist immediately. Your treatment options are more effective and you can stop the spread of the infection to your remaining toenails with greater success.
As the nail fungus symptoms worsen and continue to be left untreated, you’ll begin to notice the following moderate symptoms:
- Yellowing that is becoming more dramatic and is spreading to the other nails on both feet.
- Nails that are also very hardened, cracked.
- Mild discomfort is becoming worse as the nails begin to separate from the nail bed. The toenails can also look misshapen and can even begin to grow into the skin, much like an ingrown toenail.
The extreme stages of nail fungus symptoms are extremely difficult to treat and including some of the following symptoms:
- Toenails that crumble completely or separate entirely from the nail beds and fall off.
- Rancid odor that’s very noticeable and the new nails that are replacing the old ones that crumbled or fell off will suffer the same fate, as the infection hasn’t been treated and still remains.
- Cellulitis, a bacterial infection that affects the body’s connective tissue, is also a secondary-issue associated with the later stages of nail fungus infections. Symptoms of cellulitis include fever, chills, redness and swelling.
Contacting Your Doctor
As stated above, it’s crucial to seek medical attention at the onset of nail fungus symptoms. Before you see the doctor, note any symptoms you’ve noticed and write down a list of potential questions and any medications or vitamins you’re currently taking. While at the office, the doctor or podiatrist will visually examine the nails and procure a sample of infected tissue from beneath the nail itself. The sample is then cultured or microscopically examined for the infection’s underlying cause, which isn’t always fungal. Many times psoriasis or other bacterial infections are the cause of the symptoms and require a different treatment protocol.
Treatments for nail fungal infections vary depending on the severity of symptoms and include:
- Oral antifungal medication, such as terbinafine or itraconozole, is often prescribed and ingested over a 6 to 12-week cycle. Full results are not realized for at least 4 to 6 months, or until new toenail growth occurs.
- Topical treatments, such as anti-fungal nail lacquers and creams, used to treat the earlier stages of the infection as well.
- Surgical removal of the nail is often required in later stages of the infection or if the patient is experiencing severe pain.
Prevention is the best way to avoid all the unwanted nail fungus symptoms before they begin. Some of the key preventative measures include:
- Keep your feet as dry as possible, which could mean taking your shoes and socks off at the office and giving your extremities a chance to breathe.
- Avoid wearing the same pair of socks for longer than one day and if you’re shoes or socks become damp, remove them immediately.
- Rotate your shoe collection to ensure you’re not donning the same look for more than one to two days at a time.
- Sprinkle some antifungal powder on your feet after you shower and try wearing sandals during the weekends to allow your feet to breathe.
- Wear your sandals while walking through the showers at your gym or taking a stroll anywhere that is moist, including around the public swimming pool. These moist environments are ideal breeding grounds for the unwanted fungal infections.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after touching or medicating your infected toenails, as the fungus will easily spread to your fingernails.