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An infection of nail fungus is also called the onychomycosis and it usually occurs when fungi infect one or more nails. This condition is easily recognizable because it usually begins as a white or yellow spot under the tip of nail or nail.

As the nail fungus spreads deeper into nail, it may cause the whole nail to loose its normal color,  thicken and develop crumbling edges. Beside this esthetic damage, this condition can be extremely painful. Infections of nail fungus account for about half of all nail disorders. Fungal infections usually develop on nails when they are continually exposed to warm, moist environments, such as sweaty shoes or shower floors. Although many people believe that nail fungus is the same thing as athlete's foot it is not so. Athlete’s foot primarily affects the skin of the feet. Although these infections aren’t a life-threatening disorder, the treatment can turn out to be a big problem. Even after a complete recovery, infections often recur again and again. 

Incidence

These infections are far more common on the toenails than the fingernails. It is estimated that they affects about 12% of all Americans. When it comes to age distribution, it occurs in approximately 25% of people at age 40, and 40% of older people. These infections tend to run in families but not everyone is susceptible. 

Cause of nail fungal infection

Fungi are microscopic organisms that don't need sunlight to survive.
That’s why they live in moist and dark places. Several researches have proven that great majority of nail fungal infections are caused by a group of fungi called Dermatophytes. Yeasts and molds can also be responsible for nail fungal infections.

They invade skin through tiny invisible cuts or through a small separation between your nail and nail bed. This infection is far more common in toenails than in fingernails because toenails are often confined in a dark, warm, moist environment inside the shoes. 

Signs and symptoms of nail fungal infection

These infections are very easy to detect and diagnose. A patient may have a nail fungal infection if one or more of his or hers nails are:

  • Thickened
  • Brittle, crumbly or ragged
  • Distorted in shape
  • Flat or dull, having lost luster and shine
  • Yellow, green, brown or black in color
  • With debris building up under nail

Risk factors for developing nail fungal infection

  • Age - It is proven that nail fungus is more common among older adults because nails grow more slowly and thicken with aging, making them more susceptible to infection.
  • Sex - Nail fungus also tends to affect men more than women.
  • Perspiring heavily
  • Working in a humid or moist environment
  • Wearing socks and shoes that lack of ventilation
  • A minor skin or nail injury, a damaged nail or another infection
  • Diabetes, circulation problems or a weakened immune system
  • Other fungal skin infection
  • After washing hands frequently, or have them in water a lot
  • A nail that has recently been damaged is also more likely to become infected
  • Nail infections are more common in people who live in hot or humid climates
  • Smoking also increases the risk of developing a nail infection

Possible complications

Beside the fact that these nail fungal infections can be very painful, they may cause permanent damage to the nails. These infections may also lead to other serious infections that can spread beyond patient’s feet. They can pose a serious health risk for people with diabetes and for those with weakened immune systems. In such cases even a minor injury to the feet can lead to a more serious complication, such as an open sore that's difficult to heal.

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