Risk factors for fungal nail infections
Concerned about fungal nail infections? Read on for more information on things that may increase your chances of catching an infection, and how to fight it.
Risk factors for fungal nail infections
A fungal nail infection, also known as onychomycosis, is a very common condition caused by the same fungus responsible for tinea capitis (jock itch), ringworm and athlete’s foot.
Symptoms typically include thickening, crumbling and discolouration of the nail, as well as pain and discomfort while walking or wearing shoes, and an unpleasant odour. While they are much more commonly found on the toenails, fungal nail infections can also spread the fingers.
For many people, they do not pose any significant threat to overall health, but they can be uncomfortable, unsightly, and embarrassing. And while it is impossible to avoid some level of exposure to this fungus, certain factors increase your likelihood of contracting the condition. Read more about the risk factors, prevention, and when to use a fungal nail infection treatment.
A Family History
Anyone can be unlucky enough to pick up a fungal nail infection at any point in their life, but some are more susceptible to the fungus than others. Our immune response is partially determined by genetics, which means that some people have a stronger natural line of defence against fungal nail infections than others.
Those suffering from conditions that cause poor circulation, such as diabetes, may find that they are more susceptible to fungal nail infections. What’s more, while nail fungus is a relatively benign (though unsightly) condition for many people, it can pose a significant health risk to diabetics and those with compromised immune systems and should be examined by your GP as soon as possible.
An Existing Fungal Nail Infection
It can be easy to overlook an existing fungal nail infection as, for many people, the symptoms are relatively minor. The trouble is, this significantly increases your chances of contracting the infection in the rest of your nails. An infection like this will not go away on its own, so it is important that you begin using an effective fungal nail infection treatment as soon as possible. It can take time for the fungus to go away, so remaining consistent and patient with your treatment is vital.
Both athlete’s foot and fungal nail infections are caused by the same kind of fungus, which thrives in moist, cramped conditions. Wearing tight running shoes -- especially when they haven’t been given enough time to dry out fully between uses -- provide the perfect space for fungus to grow and spread to your toes.
Wearing Ill-Fitting Shoes
Not only should we be aiming to keep our feet dry, we should also ensure that the shoes we are wearing are comfortable and give our feet plenty of space to move and expand throughout the day. Tight shoes can damage our toenails each time we walk which, overtime, makes them far more vulnerable to fungal nail infections.
Aim to keep several pairs of comfortable, breathable and well-fitted shoes, and alternate each day to ensure that they have sufficient time to dry before you wear them again.
Walking Barefoot in Public
While it is important to give our feet opportunities to breath throughout the day, certain environments pose a greater risk for contracting fungal nail infections. Gym changing rooms and communal showers are often damp and humid, which creates the perfect breeding ground for germs, bacteria and fungus. With so many people walking around barefoot, the likelihood of you picking up a fungal nail infection increases.
Wearing Nylon Tights
Nylon is a synthetic material which, unlike cotton, does not allow your feet to breathe throughout the day. As your feet sweat, that moisture becomes trapped and creates the same damp, dark environment in which athlete’s foot and fungal nail infections thrive. It is recommended that you apply an antiperspirant or baby powder to your feet each time you wear nylon tights.
The Nail Salon
Nail files and other tools are used on many people throughout the day and, if used on someone suffering from a fungal nail infection, could end up transferring the fungus to you. While this equipment can be properly sterilised between customers, some salons may not be as rigorous with their hygiene practices as others. What’s more, if you have any minor cuts or abrasions on the skin surrounding your nails, this can further increase the risk of you becoming infected. Remember to exercise caution, and be prepared to walk away from a salon if you are not confident that the tools they are using are clean.
Similarly, darker nail polishes can create the perfect environment in which fungi can thrive by blocking out light. Paint your toenails for special occasions but give them regular breaks to avoid infection.