Toenails do have some variety from person to person. Some are wide, others thin. Some naturally curve. Sometimes, however, differences in nails are not normal. Discoloration, distortion, and thickening of the tissue are symptoms of damage, usually from an infection. The most common culprit is toenail fungus.
Nail Tissue Changes
This fungal infection festers underneath your hard keratin tissue. It’s usually caused by a microscopic fungi that exists in the environment around us, though occasionally yeasts and molds can also be culprits. The microorganisms thrive in warm, moist environments. If your toes are frequently sweaty and enclosed in your shoes, you risk providing that kind of atmosphere. The pathogen gets under your nail—typically through a slight separation between your nail and its bed—and begins to grow and multiply.
As the micro-organisms grow, they slowly break down your hard keratin tissue. Your nails generally become thickened and discolored. They may appear grey, yellow, or even dark if you have debris underneath the tissue. The worse the condition gets, the more your nail distorts. Often, the edges become brittle, ragged, and crumbly. The nail loses its shine and may emit a foul odor. Sometimes the tissue distortion can cause discomfort as well.
Anyone can develop toenail fungus, since the pathogen is in the environment around you. The infection is highly contagious, so it passes easily from one person’s feet to both their footwear and the surfaces around them. Public places like pools, locker rooms, saunas, and public restrooms are some of the most common locations for you to be exposed to the micro-organism. You can also acquire the problem from direct contact with an infected person’s toes or footwear. The fungus will continue to grow and multiply unless you treat the problem.
Eliminating the Pathogen
The sooner you address toenail fungus, the easier and sooner it can be eradicated. Our team of specialists here at NorthPointe Foot & Ankle will evaluate your toes to determine if your condition is a fungal infection or another problem. We may also scrape off a sample of your nail tissue to be analyzed to confirm the diagnosis. Then, we can help you begin treatment.
There are several different types of conservative treatments for fungal nail infections. Topical anti-fungal medications kill the pathogen on the surface of the nails and surrounding skin. However, it isn’t able to penetrate the hard tissue to target the problem underneath. Usually this is paired with an oral medication as well, which is able to travel through the blood stream to eliminate the problem. This medication is usually successful, though it can have some unpleasant side effects.
You could eliminate the pathogen more quickly through laser therapy for fungal infections. A high-intensity beam of light passes through the hard tissue and vaporizes the infected cells below it. This destroys the infection, allowing your new, healthy nails to grow in and replace the damaged areas more quickly. Occasionally, a nail procedure to excise the damaged tissue and clean out the infection is necessary.
You’ll need to take steps to eliminate the infection from your footwear to prevent the problem from recurring as well. Exposing your healing toes to the microorganisms lurking in your shoes can pass the problem to other toes, give you athlete’s foot, or allow a stubborn case of toenail fungus to return. We can recommend anti-fungal sprays, powders, and more for the inside of your footwear to help clear out the problem.
If you’ve noticed your nails changing color, distorting, or generally becoming uncomfortable, you may have developed toenail fungus. The longer this problem is left alone, the worse it grows—and the harder it will be to eliminate. Don’t wait to seek help for your toes and suffer with unsightly, painful nails. Contact NorthPointe Foot & Ankle here in Berkley, MI, for more information or an appointment to deal with your condition before it becomes more complicated. Fill out our website contact page or call (248) 545-0100 to reach us.