Onychomycosis is the medical term for fungal infections of the fingernails and toenails. Infections of the fingernails or toenails can cause irritating symptoms such as pain, redness and itching. Although infections can be caused by yeast and molds, most infections are from a fungus group known as dermatophytes. Itching occurs when the fungus causes irritation and damage to your skin. Factors that allow fungus to proliferate will also lead to an increase in symptoms such as itching.
Environments that are ideal for fungus growth increase the risk of infection through contact. Additionally, frequent contact with individuals with an active fungal infection can also increase the risk of infection. Hand hygiene that consists of both of washing and drying the hands is important in minimizing the risk of infection due to environmental exposure.
Fungus proliferates in warmer temperatures. Warmer climates and body areas that remain covered by clothing such as socks create ideal fungi growth environments. Keeping infected nails dry and cool helps to slow growth, according to MayoClinic.com.
Fungi thrive in moisture rich environments. Sources of moisture could include air humidity, wet environments, and body perspiration. Measures taken to avoid trapping moisture and allow air circulation will keep the nails dry and slow fungus growth.
Medical conditions that impair the immune system can allow dermatophytes to proliferate. Diabetes can cause poor circulation to the peripheral areas of the body. Immune disorders and medications that suppress the immune system can also make it more difficult to eliminate nail fungus. Concurrent infections by other organisms can overwhelm the immune system as well as causing additional skin irritation.
In many cases, antifungal medication is required to eliminate the fungus that causes nail infections. Topical antifungal products are most commonly used but more resistant infections will require oral or intravenous medication. Consult a physician if symptoms of infection appear to avoid delaying treatment. (See References 2)
Nails should be kept clean, dry, and in good physical condition. Avoid tight fitting shoes and biting the nails, both of which can cause damage and increase the risk of infection. Additionally, nails should be kept properly trimmed and routinely checked for discoloration or other abnormalities, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.