Why do fungal infections occur?
A large proportion of nail problems stem from fungal infections. Many of these could easily have been avoided had the correct precautions been taken initially. The fact is, fungus loves to have dark and damp conditions in which to thrive, and a split or break between the nail and the bed is an ideal breeding ground . Below are a few ways in which infections can be contracted:
- A blow to the nail causing it to lift away from the nail bed, which in turn permits moisture to enter and allows bacteria to breed.
- A poorly applied fake nail tip can encourage germs if it is not secured to the natural nail correctly.
- Salons that have sub-standard hygiene procedures.
- Athlete's foot that is not treated effectively can also spread to the toe nail.
- Using a gymnasium or public swimming pool without any foot protection.
- Nail biting that result in rips and tears, and bleeding of the skin, surrounding the nail. This will then allow germs to enter.
- Having a low immune system caused by illnesses, such as diabetes, may also enhance the chance of infections occurring, and then not readily clearing up.
What do Nail Infections Look Like?
The medical name for a nail fungus is onychomycosis (from the Greek onycho=nail mykes=fungus). Nail infections present themselves in several different ways:
- Green discoloration to the nail.
- Thickening and scaling.
- Pain when applying pressure to the nail.
- In severe cases the nail will lift away from the bed and will eventually completely detach, crumbling as it progresses.
If you wear nail polish for long periods of time and you bang your nail severely, wipe off the polish to check the level of damage. When damage has occurred and you wear fake nails it is advisable to have the extension removed as soon as the pain subsides. That way you give your own natural nail time and space to heal. When athlete's foot is present try to use natural materials and avoid synthetics. Also, remember to change your socks frequently and allow your training shoes to air completely between uses.
How can nail infections be treated?
It is not always possible to cure nail infections the first time. Sometimes it is necessary to repeat treatments several times. When nails have been left to severely deteriorate it may take a number of years for the nail to regain its normal appearance. Also, keep in mind that if an underlying condition, such as diabetes, AIDS or any disorder that slows the body's ability to repair itself, is present then healing may take much longer.
Prescription drugs are available for fungal nail infections but treatment is not always successful, and the side-effects can outweigh the success rate (check with your physician. Where possible, use a natural remedy such as tea tree oil or vinegar. Soaking a cotton ball in either remedy, and applying it regularly to the infected nail will assist natural healing. Under normal circumstances you would expect to see improvement in the infected nail after 8-12 weeks.
If the problem is with a finger nail, and you have a good, clean and knowledgeable nail salon nearby, they should be able to paint on a type of lacquer that is used to treat nail infections. Again, if you wear false nails you should not have one on the infected finger until it is completely healed.
In the meantime, keep the nail short and in the case of finger nails do not use any polishes at all that could prevent the nail from 'breathing'. Also, do not share towels during a nail infection. When damage has occurred to a toe nail, again keep the nail short, but consider others if you are swimming or using any kind of communal areas where you walk bare foot.
Theoretically, when the new nail works its way up from the cuticle, it should be fresh and new. However, where extensive or prolonged damage has occurred to the nail bed the damaged nail may not grow correctly for some time, if at all.