Fungal nail infections are a common problem that can cause nails to thicken, discolor, become brittle, and separate from the nail bed.
While not life-threatening, fungal infections can be painful and embarrassing. The good news is that with some simple precautions, many fungal nail infections can be prevented in the first place.
What Are Fungal Nail Infections?
Fungal nail infections, also called onychomycosis, occur when microscopic fungi called dermatophytes invade the nail bed under or around the toenail or fingernail. Fungi thrive in warm, moist environments.
The infection causes nails to degrade and become discolored, usually turning white, yellow, or green. Debris often collects under infected nails.
If left untreated, the infection worsens and can spread to surrounding nails. Fungal nail infections are contagious and transmit easily in damp public places like pools, showers, and locker rooms.
Tips to Prevent Fungal Nail Infections
Here are some effective tips to prevent fungal nail infections:-
👉 Practice Good Foot Hygiene
- Wash feet daily with soap and dry thoroughly, especially between the toes. Trim nails straight across.
- Disinfect shower floors and wear flip-flops in public showers/locker rooms.
- Avoid sharing towels, socks, shoes, or nail files with others.
👉 Wear Clean, Dry Socks and Shoes
- Wear socks that wick moisture and change them often if your feet sweat.
- Alternate pairs of shoes to allow them to dry out fully between wears.
- Opt for leather or mesh shoes over moist environments like vinyl or rubber.
- Disinfect the insides of shoes regularly with an anti-fungal spray.
👉 Keep Nails Short and Dry
- Trim nails straight across to prevent ingrown edges that can harbor fungus.
- File down thickened nails to reduce debris and moisture getting trapped underneath.
- Avoid prolonged wetness to hands and feet by drying thoroughly after washing and wearing waterproof gloves for housework.
👉 Use Anti-Fungal Foot Powder
- Dust anti-fungal powder inside shoes and socks to help keep feet dry. Look for powders containing clotrimazole, miconazole, or tolnaftate.
- Reapply foot powder 2-3 times per day, especially during hot, humid weather.
👉 Boost Immunity and Circulation
- Eat yogurt with live cultures to support healthy bacteria on the skin.
- Increase circulation to feet and hands with massages, stretching, and exercise.
- Quit smoking and manage chronic illnesses like diabetes that reduce blood flow.
👉 Avoid Picking at Nails
- Resist picking at nails or cuticles, which can open wounds for fungus to enter.
- Never clip or push back infected toenails, which can spread spores.
- Disinfect nail tools after each use.
Risk Factors For Developing Fungal Nail Infections
Certain individuals are at higher risk of developing stubborn fungal nail infections:
- Senior adults – Older age correlates with reduced blood flow and slower nail growth.
- Diabetics – High blood sugar promotes fungal growth.
- Smokers – Compromised circulation increases susceptibility.
- Family history – Genetic propensity toward fungal infections.
- Athletes – Extended wetness and tight shoes promote fungus.
- Impaired immune function – Illness, medications, and stress inhibit immunity.
- Previous fungal infections – Increased likelihood of recurrence.
- Injured nails or cuticles – Openings allow fungus invasion.
- Excessively sweaty feet – Breeding ground for fungus.
Precautions To Avoid Fungal Nail Infections
- Inspect feet and nails regularly for early signs of infection like whitening nails or debris buildup.
- Do not share personal care items like towels, shoes, socks, or nail files with others.
- Swim only in properly chlorinated pools and avoid hot tubs, lakes, etc. Wear water shoes.
- Get pedicures only from reputable salons that properly disinfect equipment. Bring your tools if possible.
- Disinfect bathroom and shower floors frequently with anti-fungal cleanser.
- Toss old shoes and socks that may harbor fungi instead of continuing to wear them.
- See a doctor for nail injuries, thickening, or discoloration to start treatment early if infected.
Fungal nail infections range from being an annoyance to causing discomfort, pain, and social embarrassment.
While not always avoidable, the precautions and healthy habits discussed here can significantly lower risks.
Paying close attention to foot hygiene, moisture control, immunity, and early treatment improves the odds of keeping toenails and fingernails looking healthy. But if a fungal nail infection develops, prompt medical care is key to recovery.
Frequently Asked Questions
A: Yes, dermatophytes are spread easily in damp environments like locker rooms, swimming pools, and showers. Avoid direct contact with infected nails.
A: Yes, fingernails are also prone but the infection is more common in toenails. Fingernail infections are rare in the absence of a toenail infection.
A: It takes 6 months or longer for an infected nail to grow out and be replaced by healthy new nail growth. Oral medication may speed up recovery.
A: Soaking in vinegar, Vicks VapoRub, Listerine, tea tree oil, oregano oil, and garlic are sometimes effective home remedies. But medical treatment yields the best results.
A: Seek medical care if over-the-counter treatments are ineffective after 3 months or if the infection is spreading, to prevent permanent nail damage.