Dear Doc | Treating a fungal infection
Q Dear Doc, I went to a new nail shop to do my holiday nails because I wanted a nice design and they were having a sale. Everything was good and my nails were cute. However, the polish has stripped and my nails now look ‘funny’. The entire area looks very white, just like how the tip of it would look. Was it something the new nail tech did to cause it? Did she clean it too rough and lift it up? Will my nail come back to how it was? My job doesn’t allow the wearing of nail polish, so I can’t cover it, but I can’t stand to see it looking like that.
A Unfortunately, based on what you have said, you may have contracted a fungal nail infection.
A fungal nail infection, or what is commonly called a nail fungus, is an infection of the nail that causes it to get thick or turn white, yellow, or brown. It is caused by an organism called a fungus.
Fungal infections happen more commonly in the toenails than the fingernails, and usually start on the big toe.
Fungi like to grow in warm and wet places, like the bowls and basins used by nail technicians to soak clients nails in, as well as some of the textured instruments.
A fungal infection can cause a nail to:
- Turn white, yellow, or brown;
- Get thick, change shape, or lift up;
- Break off easily;
Fungal nail infections do not usually lead to serious long-term problems; however, in persons who have diabetes or who are immune-compromised (have trouble fighting infections), the nail infection can make them more likely to get other infections.
Usually, your doctor can tell if you have a fungal nail infection by talking with you and doing an examination. But to make sure, he or she might take a small sample of the nail and look at it under a microscope, or send it to a lab for another doctor to examine. Your doctor might also send the sample to a lab for tests that can show which type of fungus is causing the infection.
You can buy over-the-counter creams or products, to treat your nail infection, but they usually do not work very well.
Treatment usually depends on how severe the infection is, and how much it bothers you. Some persons, after finding that their fungal nail infection is mild, are not bothered very much, and they can choose not to treat it. An untreated nail infection probably will not go away, but it also will not cause any long-term problems, either.
For those persons who choose to have treatment, it usually involves what is called antifungal medicines that can be obtained with a prescription from your doctor. These medicines are either taken by mouth or put on the nail, or a combination of both.
It should be known that fungal infections are difficult to treat, and treatment with pills usually lasts a few months. As a result of this, persons who decide to take this form of treatment will need to have periodic blood tests. This is because these antifungal pill medications can affect your liver.
If you do not want to, or cannot take antifungal pills, your doctor will discuss this with and offer you alternative treatment options. These might include using an antifungal medicine on the nail, similar to a polish which is painted on to the nail, or having surgery to remove your nail.
Before starting any of these treatments, you should know that:
- It can take many months for your nail to look normal again.
- There is a chance that the treatment will not work.
- The infection might not get better, or it might come back.
If either of these things happen, your doctor can try another treatment or send you to a specialist.
To help prevented or reduce your chances of getting another fungal nail infection, you can:
- Keep your nails clean and dry.
- Avoid sharing nail tools, such as clippers and scissors.
- Wear flip-flops or other footwear in a gym shower.