What Is Nail Fungus?

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Nail fungus, also called onychomycosis, is an infection of toenails or fingernails by fungus, yeast or mold. Symptoms of nail fungus include yellow or white spots at the edge of the nail.

As the infection spreads, the nail may begin to discolor, thicken or crumble at the edge. Nail fungus can become painful over time and lead to complications such as onycholysis, which is a separation of the nail from the bed.

Fungi generally live in dark, moist, warm environments and do not need light to survive. Some fungi can cause infections or other illnesses. To reduce the risk of nail infections, keep fingernails and toenails trimmed, clean and dry. If possible, wear sandals or shoes made of a breathable fabric. If socks become wet, switch them out regularly for a clean pair. Some people have allergic reactions to certain types of fabrics, which exacerbate toenail fungus problems by causing feet to sweat more than usual.

Many effective over-the-counter treatment options are available in the form of antifungal nail creams and ointments. Applying Vicks VapoRub to affected areas may also improve symptoms. If over-the-counter medications and home treatments do not get rid of nail fungus, a health care provider may prescribe oral antifungal drugs, antifungal nail polish or surgery.