Your body hosts millions of microscopic organisms, some harmful, some hurtful. Fungi are one type of tiny, plant-like organism that lives on your body or inside it. Unlike plants, they have no chlorophyll, a chemical which turns sunlight into food. To survive, fungi absorb nutrients from other living or dead things. They thrive in warm, moist places, like underneath your toenails.
It is estimated that around 36 million people in the , United
States, have onychomycosis
, a fungal nail infection. Fungal nail infections are more common in toenails, but they also occur in fingernails. They are more likely in adults and often follow a fungal foot infection, like athlete's foot.
When the nail is infected with fungi, it becomes yellowish, dry and brittle. The nail also becomes thicker, as layers of fungi grow and bloom. The nail may even separate from the skin, slightly rising off the toe.
Locker rooms, public pools and gym showers can all be sources of fungal infections. Fungi love these hot, damp environments. Nail salons can also be a source of fingernail fungal infection. If the foot tub is not properly cleaned after a pedicure, fungi can live there, infecting the next person that puts their feet in tub.
Perhaps the best way to prevent a fungal toenail infection is not to go barefoot at public pools or locker rooms. When you go to the nail salon, be sure the equipment is properly cleaned.
Although they may not hurt, it is best to treat fingernail fungal infections early. Untreated fingernail fungal infections can become very painful, making it difficult to walk and uncomfortable to wear shoes.
Doctors prescribe topical ointments or oral medication depending on how much
the fungus has grown. Fungal nail infections are not life threatening. It can
take years before the infection becomes large enough to cause pain or
This page relates to three of the most common nail problems:
* Ingrown nails.
* Fungal nails.
* Psoriatic nails.
If you're interested in the structure of the nail and medical terms relating to the nail, visit our web page on nail anatomy and glossary of nail conditions.
We have another page that discusses some basic surgical nail procedures.
Ingrown Toenail. An ingrown toenail is probably the most common abnormality involving the nail, and we see this problem in our office on a daily basis.
Simply put, an ingrown nail is a condition in which the nail is growing into the flesh.
The condition may involve one border or both, and is accompanied by redness, warmth, swelling, and quite frequently, infection.
The amount of pain the patient experiences varies, depending upon one's age, gender, circulation, and general medical condition.
As a rule, smokers will have more pain than non-smokers.
While the problem is often dismissed as inconsequential (at least by those who have never experienced the problem), it should not be taken lightly.
Just a couple generations ago, in the era before antibiotics, an ingrown toenail that developed into an infection could kill people.
Even today, if the patient has compromised circulation or diabetes, the condition may frequently lead to loss of a limb.
Ingrown toenail may be caused by:.
* Improperly trimmed nails (Trim then straight across, not longer than the tip of the toes. Do not cut down the corners.)
* Shoe pressure; crowding of toes in poorly-fitting shoes.
* Repeated trauma to the feet from normal activities.
The most common treatment a patient attempts to perform for this condition is so-called "bathroom surgery".
This is where the patient attempts to remove a portion of nail, himself.
Unfortunately, this will often worsen the condition and can make proper treatment more difficult.
We suggest that you may clean the foot in a warm (not hot) salt water soak, or a basin of soapy water, then apply an antiseptic and bandage the area.
You should then schedule an appointment with a podiatrist as soon as possible.
He or she can diagnose the problem, the prescribe medication or other appropriate treatment.
People with diabetes or circulatory disorders are especially sensitive to infections and serious problems and need to seek podiatric medical care as soon as possible.
Antibiotics will usually address the infection-portion of this complaint, but they do nothing for the actual problem of the nail digging into the flesh.
So most podiatrists will resect
the ingrown portion of the nail and may prescribe a topical or oral medication to treat the infection as an adjunctive treatment.
If ingrown nails are a chronic problem or severe enough, we can perform a simple procedure to permanently prevent ingrown nails. This procedure consists of removing the problematic nail border and killing or removing the root of the nail in some way so that it never regrows
This is a very common procedure, one that we perform every day.
And the procedure very rarely hurts.
For more information on some of the types of surgical procedures used for ingrown nails, please click on the following link for Permanent Nail Procedures.
Fungal Nails. fingernail fungal infections of the nail, (also known as tinea
), usually develop as a result of spread from a fingernail fungal infection of the skin ( tinea
or athlete's foot).
In contrast to athlete's foot, which is often itchy or even painful, fungal nails are frequently painless, and so are often ignored for years.
Early fungal disease is characterized by a slow but progressive change in a toenail's quality and color.
While many patients believe the infection lies beneath the nail plate, it usually involves all layers of the nail--on top of the nail plate, beneath it, and within it. As time progresses and becomes more advanced, the nail will often worsen, becoming more and more discoloured
, thickened, and difficult to cut.
There is frequently a foul odour
associated with the condition.
The infection may also spread to other toenails, the skin, or even the finger nails. As the thickened nails deteriorate, they may become ingrown (discussed above) and painful.
Pain may also develop because the thicker nails are difficult to trim and make walking and wearing shoes uncomfortable.
Because it is difficult to avoid contact with microscopic organisms like fungi, the toenails are especially vulnerable around damp areas where people are likely to be walking barefoot, such as swimming pools, locker rooms, and showers, for example. Injury to the nail bed may make it more susceptible to all types of infection, including fingernail fungal infection. The elderly and those who suffer from chronic diseases, such as diabetes, circulatory problems, or immune-deficiency conditions, are especially prone to fungal nails. Other contributing factors may be a history of athlete's foot and excessive perspiration.
* Proper hygiene and regular inspection of the feet and toes are the first lines of defense against fungal nails.
* Clean and dry feet resist disease.
* Washing the feet with soap and water, remembering to dry thoroughly, is the best way to prevent an infection.
* Shower shoes should be worn when possible in public areas.
* Shoes, socks, or hosiery should be changed more than once daily.
* Toenails should be clipped straight across so that the nail does not extend beyond the tip of the toe.
* Wear shoes that fit well and are made of materials that breathe.
* Avoid wearing excessively tight hosiery, which promote moisture.
* Socks made of synthetic fiber tend to "wick" away moisture faster than cotton or wool socks.
* Disinfect instruments used to cut nails.
* Disinfect home pedicure tools.
* Don't apply polish to nails suspected of infection—those that are red, discolored, or swollen, for example.
Treatment of Fungal Nails.
Treatments may vary, depending on the nature and severity of the infection. A daily routine of cleansing over a period of many months may temporarily suppress mild infections. White markings that appear on the surface of the nail can be filed off, followed by the application of an over-the-counter liquid antifungal agent. However, even the best over-the-counter treatments may not prevent a fingernail fungal infection from coming back.
A podiatric physician can detect a fingernail fungal infection early, culture the nail, determine the cause, and form a suitable treatment plan, which may include prescribing topical or oral medication, and debridement
(removal of diseased nail matter and debris) of an infected nail.
Newer oral antifungals
may be the most effective treatment. They offer a shorter treatment regimen of approximately three months and improved effectiveness. Podiatrists may also prescribe a topical treatment for onychomycosis
, which can be an effective treatment modality for fungal nails.
In some cases, surgical treatment may be required. Temporary removal of the infected nail can be performed to permit direct application of a topical antifungal. Permanent removal of a chronically painful nail, which has not responded to any other treatment, permits the fingernail fungal infection to be cured, and prevents the return of a deformed nail.
Trying to solve the infection without the qualified help of a podiatric physician can lead to more problems. With new technical advances in combination with simple preventive measures, the treatment of this lightly regarded health problems can often be successful.
Psoriasis is a chronic skin disorder affecting about 2% of the population.
It is non-contagious and appears to have a genetic origin, though episodes may be triggered by stress and trauma. Psoriasis may be rather mild, involving occasional bouts of non-painful, silver-white scales on a small area of the skin with varying degrees of redness (inflammation) surrounding it (see diagram to the right), or it may be severe, involving uncomfortable blisters over large portions of skin throughout the body.
While psoriasis may be found anywhere on the body, the classic areas of involvement are the elbows, knees, hands, feet, scalp, ears, and the genital region.
Some 50% of individuals with psoriasis may develop the condition in their nails.
This condition causes some combination of pitting in the nails (see diagram A below), yellow-white discoloration and dystrophy (degeneration) mimicking fungal involvement (see diagram B below), and onycholysis
, where the nail slowly becomes detached and loose from the nail bed (see diagram C below).
The nails are usually painless, but may become painful in some cases.
nail, fungal nail, psoriatic nail, or other uncomfortable nail pathology does not respond to conservative care, an attempt may be made at a permanent correction of the problem through surgical means.
Surgical nail procedures have improved greatly over the years, and they may be designed to temporarily or permanently correct ingrown nail conditions.
Listed below are some of the most common procedures.
Temporary Nail Procedures.
At first glance, it may seem nonsensical to attempt a temporary nail procedure.
After all, why would anyone wish to temporarily fix a nail condition when you could do it permanently?
Well, there are a couple reasons it may make sense to try this sort of procedure.
First, if there is nothing really wrong with the nail, but the ingrown nail was caused by a one-time trauma, by cutting the nail improperly or by some other one-time event, it may be quite reasonable to address the acute problem temporarily in such a way that once the tissues heal, the problem may not be likely to return.
A couple examples of procedures that fall into this category are listed below:
This procedure simply aims to remove the offending portion of the ingrown nail without touching the remainder non-problematic nail.
Depending upon the severity of the problem, this procedure may be performed with or without anesthesia.
procedure aims at removing the portion of skin that often grows up and over the nail plate when ingrown nails are present.
This abnormal growth of skin is known as a Granuloma
, and usually appears red, angry-looking (though they may be painless) and very bloody.
While a granuloma
excision may performed
as an isolated procedure, it is frequently performed along with a permanent nail procedure.
are techniques that primarily address an abnormal component of skin that may be the cause of the problem.
For example, a portion of skin may be excessively large and the nail may continually grow into the skin.
Again, this may be performed as an isolated procedure or in conjunction with a permanent nail procedure.
Permanent Nail Procedures.
There are three families of procedures that permanently address nail conditions--"sharp" procedures, chemical procedures, and miscellaneous procedures.
are known by that name because they all have in common the use of a scalpel to excise a portion of the nail root.
Because the nail root is being cut out, or "excised", this family of procedures is properly known as known as matrixectomy
procedures, with the suffix "- ectomy
" meaning "excision".
may either be a partial matrixectomy
, when only a portion of the nail root is removed, or a total or complete matrixectomy
, when the entire nail root is removed.
Compared to chemical procedures, sharp procedures have the advantage of looking better immediately after the procedure, and they typically have less drainage.
While sharp procedures are still performed frequently by other medical professionals, it's probably safe to say that In the podiatric profession they are performed much more infrequently today than in years past because of their down side.
First, there is cutting involved, so they may create more scar tissue than other types of procedures, they may have a more noticeable post-operative appearance, they may hurt more and they physically remove the nail root from the bone, potentially increasing the odds of a bone infection.
procedure involves freeing the skin behind the nail and removing the nail, then peeling away the root of the nail.
procedure involves an incision that is angled at about 45 degrees from the nail border, and excising just the nail root.
of the older "sharp" procedures, the Frost involves making an "L"-shaped incision behind the nail plate, peeling back the soft tissues to expose and excise the nail root and any abnormal soft tissue associated with it.
procedure involves a "D"-shaped excision of the nail root and overlying soft tissues.
aggressive as the Kaplan procedure, the Winograd
may be a good choice when sharp procedures are considered.
Kaplan procedure may be the most well documented nail procedure in the literature.
It involves an "H"-shaped incision and requires the excision of both the nail root and the nail bed (the soft tissue upon which then nail rests).
This procedure may still be indicated in cases where the bone underlying the nail is involved, but this procedure is more aggressive then necessary for the vast majority of ingrown nails.
procedure is basically an amputation of the tip of the toe.
I'd like to say this procedure is rarely done any longer for routine ingrown nails, but from time to time, I still see people who have had this done.
There are very few indications for this procedure to be performed.
Simply put, chemical procedures attempt to permanently resolve an ingrown nail by chauterizing
the nail root through the application of a strong chemical.
Because the root of the nail is not actually removed, chemical procedures are not really matrixectomies
, though they are often referred to as being so.
In theory, any chemical strong enough to chauterize
the root of the nail without adversely affecting the patient could be used, but the most common chemical techniques are listed below.
The advantage of chemical procedures are that they are known for being relatively painless; there is typically no scalpel used in these procedures, so there is little scarring, and so they also tend to look very nice after they are completely healed; and chemical procedures don't denude the covering from the underlying bone, which diminishes the odds of a post-operative bone infection.
The downside to these procedures is that they create a minor chemical burn in the area, so they tend to drain.
Soaking and bandage changes are usually prescribed.
The most common names you might hear?
phenol procedure involves applying an acidic chemical known as phenol to the root of the nail.
(See diagram to the right for an image of phenol's chemical structure.)
This is probably the most common chemical procedure used today.
P&A procedure is short for "Phenol and Alcohol", because alcohol is commonly used at the end of the phenol procedure to wash away any remaining phenol.
So a P& A is the same as a phenol procedure.
second most common chemical method involves using the base known as Sodium Hydroxide.
Some practitioners believe it creates less drainage than phenol procedures.
of you who have studied chemistry may recall that NaOH
is the chemical abbreviation for
sodium hydroxide, so the NaOH
procedure is the same as the Sodium Hydroxide procedure.
In addition to sharp procedures and chemical procedures, other techniques exist to address ingrown nails.
The two most common are listed below:
techniques can also be used to permanently resolve nail problems.
Much less expensive than lasers,