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Fungal Nail Infections

Fungal nail disease, or onychomycosis, is an infection of the nail and tissue underlying the surface of toenails and fingernails. It is usually caused by fungi called dermatophytes, which thrive in moist, damp environments and feed off the keratin protein which forms nails.

Most cases of onychomycosis are found in toenails. However, in 20 percent of cases, onychomycosis infects the fingernails. Symptoms of fungal nails include thick, yellow or yellowish-brown discoloration, deformed or brittle nails which are usually marked by debris under the nail plate. White marks on the nails are also good indicators of nail fungus. Feet infected with onychomycosis can be foul smelling, with toenails too thick to cut.

People with nail infections often don’t realize they suffer from a curable infection. Many suffer embarrassment because of their nails, hiding them beneath socks, shoes and nail polish.

Infected toenails often become ingrown, and standing or walking may become very painful, especially when wearing shoes.

Fungal nail infection is often found in people over age 20, especially those who are involved in high impact sports like running, which can traumatize toenails and make them vulnerable to infections. People who suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes are also susceptible.

Fungal foot infections can be communicable. Onychomycosis should be treated to avoid spreading. Fungal toenail infections can usually be cured with prescription medication.


  • avoid walking barefoot in public areas such as pools, showers and locker rooms
  • keep feet clean and free of moisture
  • avoid tight hosiery and tight shoes
  • spray the inside of footwear with antifungals
  • be wary of trauma to the feet which may expose the nail to infection
  • wear socks that wick moisture away from feet (Feet have approximately 250,000 sweat glands.)

This information has been prepared by the Consumer Education Committee of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, a professional society of 5,700 podiatric foot and ankle surgeons. Members of the College are Doctors of Podiatric Medicine who have received additional training through surgical residency programs. The mission of the College is to promote superior care of foot and ankle surgical patients through education, research and the promotion of the highest professional standards.
Copyright © 2004, American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, www.acfas.org

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