Onychomycosis is a fungus that grows in and around the toenail, causing the affected toenails to become discolored and thick. The nail will usually appear yellow or light brown in color and while the nail does thicken due to the fungus, it is actually brittle. Studies show that this condition affects between 10% and 25% of the population.

What Causes Onychomycosis?

Onychomycosis can result from a variety of causes. The fungus is most commonly experienced by adults and its development has been tied to certain behaviors such as:

  • Getting pedicures done with tools that were not cleaned properly
  • Wearing closed-in footwear
  • Allowing the feet to remain moist for an extended period of time
  • Living in a humid or damp area
  • Frequent visits to public swimming pools
  • Showering at the gym without sandals

Toenail fungus can also be a problem for people who have immune system disorders, skin or nail injuries, nail diseases, and deformed toenails.

Signs and Symptoms of Onychomycosis

Common signs and symptoms of onychomycosis in the toenails include:

  • Discoloring of the nail
  • Dull appearance to the nail
  • Thickening of the nail
  • Debris under the nail
  • Brittleness
  • Crumbling along the outside edge of the nail
  • Deviation in the shape of the nail
  • Loosening of the nail

How is Onychomycosis Diagnosed?

A complete examination of the foot is conducted by a foot and ankle surgeon. He or she may also scrape a sample from under the tip of the nail for evaluation under a microscope. The sample may also be sent to a laboratory for a culture to confirm the diagnosis.

Can Onychomycosis Be Treated Without Removal of the Nail?

In most cases, this condition can be effectively treated without requiring the nail to be removed. But it is important to understand that over-the-counter topical medications are ineffective at resolving this problem. The most effective treatment options tend to include oral anti-fungal medications and laser treatments. When prescribed oral anti-fungal medications, you can expect the treatment program to last anywhere from two to three months and depending on the medication prescribed, lab tests may be required to monitor liver function.

In more severe cases, the affected toenail may still have to be removed and even this does not eliminate the chance that the fungus could return. In most cases, changing how one takes care of his or her feet will help cut down the risk level.

Regardless of the case, you surgeon at Pennsylvania Foot and Ankle Associates will discuss all of the conservative and surgical treatment options available to you so you can make the most informed decision about your treatment plan.

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