How to protect your toenails

Whether you’re trying to clear up a fungal infection or hoping to avoid getting one, the following can help.

  • Keep feet clean and dry, washing frequently with water and soap.
  • Properly trim your toenails, cutting them straight across.
  • Change socks and shoes frequently.
  • Wear shower shoes when in a public facility.
  • Inspect your feet regularly for wounds or signs of infection.
  • Make sure shoes fit properly; avoid shoes that keep your feet from breathing or that press on your nail.
  • Wear socks that draw away perspiration.  Although it seems counterintuitive, acrylic is much better at carrying off moisture than cotton
  • Use antifungal foot powder daily if you have a fungal infection.

If you have an established fungal infection, it may be hard to eradicate but you CAN stop its spread and improve your toenail’s appearance.

Toenail fungus isn’t a pressing health problem, but a fungal infection can destroy the appearance of your nails. The nail may also lift away from the nail bed, which can be painful. As fungal infections are notoriously difficult to get rid of we should follow the advice of Dr. James P. Ioli, chief of the podiatry service at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who says “You may want to consider fungal toenail a condition to be managed rather than cured,” .

How fungi infect the nail

Onchomycosis, or toenail fungal infection, is an invasion by a microscopic organism that thrives in warm, damp environments. Fungal spores feed off the nail tissues, burrowing into the skin under the nail and, over time, the nail thickens and may lift off the nail bed.

Diagnosing toenail fungus

A number of conditions can masquerade as fungal infections. Age alone thickens and yellows the nail. Psoriasis can cause the nail and the surrounding skin to flake. Injuries can create bruising under the nail. Even the chemicals in nail polish can discolor the nail. “But you don’t want to wait until your toenail is gnarly and raised off the nail bed,” says Dr. Ioli. You should see a podiatrist as soon as you notice your nail changing, he advises.

Only a lab test on a scraping from your toenail can show for certain that fungus is responsible for your nail distortion. Misdiagnosing toenail fungus can cost you time and money trying over-the-counter products that won’t have an effect.

Types of toenail fungus 

White Spots

White spots can be a symptom of calcium deficiency in the body. However, it is more likely to be the sign of a fungal infection of the nail surface.

In which case, the nail may become increasingly damaged and crumbly, eventually turning brown or grey. Not only does it affect the cosmetic appearance of the nail, gradually the fungus may spread throughout the nail. Unless treated, it can become painful.


Brown/Yellow Nails

The discoloration of the nail is one of the first signs of nail fungus. Yellow nails are most commonly caused by fungal nail infections or nail psoriasis. The latter is typically associated with a pre-existing case of psoriasis; only 5% develop nail psoriasis as an isolated disorder.

Frequent application of nail polish may also result in yellow nails caused by staining. It is recommended to let the nails breathe often and to avoid wearing nail polish for long periods of time. Wearing nail polish for too long may cause nail fungus. The pigments used in nail polish, particularly darker shades, can stain your nails over time. The best way to prevent this is to use a  breathable nail polish special for nails with nail fungus or to use a clear-base coat before applying a nail polish.

Other causes of nail discoloration can be chronic liver disease, excessive smoking and poor lifestyle habits.


Cracked and Brittle Nails

Brittle nails can be caused by long-term exposure to water or chemicals such as detergents and nail polish. They are also a sign of ageing. For this reason, adults and older people suffer more from nail fungus which enters the nails through cracks.

Many medical conditions can affect the brittleness of nails, meaning that they easily crack, chip, split, or peel. Thin and brittle nails, referred to as Onychoschizia, can also be a sign of hypothyroidism. Taking biotin vitamin supplements can help with some cases of brittle nail, and applying moisturisers after soaking them in water can also be beneficial.


Some of the over the counter products can be used to prevent fungi entering the nails because it creates an environment that it is unsuitable for fungi to survive. Some also contain moisturisers that help cracked brittle nails to recover.


Toenail fungus treatments

There are a myriad of treatments available.  Ask at your local pharmacy for more information, and for advice on Over the Counter medications, or go see a Chiropodist or Podiatrist if there are more than two toe nails with a fungal infection.


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