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What exactly is nail fungus?

Nail fungus, a common condition

Nail fungus is actually a common condition that begins as a white or yellow spot under the tip of your toenail. As the infection continues, it may cause your nail to discolor, thicken, and even crumble at the edge…and can affect several other nails. If your condition is mild, you may not need treatment. If it’s painful and has caused thickened nails, self-care steps and medications may help. But, even if treatment is successful, nail fungus often does comes back. When fungus infects the areas between your toes and the skin of your feet, it’s called athlete’s foot.

Fungal nail infection
 can develop in people at any age, but it’s more common in older adults. As the nail ages, it can become brittle and dry. The resulting cracks in the nails allow fungi to enter. Other factors such as reduced blood circulation to the feet and a weakened immune system may also play a role. Toenail fungal infection can start from athlete’s foot, and it can spread from one nail to another. But it is uncommon to get an infection from someone else.

You may have nail fungus if you have one of the following:

  • Thickened nails
  • Whitish to yellow-brown discoloration
  • Brittle, crumbly or ragged nails
  • Distorted in shape
  • A dark color, caused by debris building up under your nail
  • Smelling slightly foul

While, nail fungus can affect fingernails, it’s more common in toenails.

When to see a doctor
You might want to see a doctor if self-care steps haven’t helped and the nail becomes increasingly discolored, thickened or deformed. If you have diabetes and think you’re developing nail fungus, you should see a doctor.

Risk factors
Factors that can increase your risk of developing nail fungus include:

  • Being older with reduced blood flow, more years of exposure to fungi and slower growing nails
  • Sweating heavily
  • Having a history of athlete’s foot
  • Walking barefoot in damp communal areas like swimming pools and shower rooms
  • Having a minor skin or nail injury or a skin condition, such as psoriasis

Having diabetes, circulation problems or a weakened immune system.

Contact our offices Laurel Foot & Ankle Center or Northern Virginia Foot & Ankle Associates  and schedule an appointment today.
To learn more about foot ulcers, go to Heel Pain Institute of America and Laurel Foot & Ankle Center or Northern Virginia Foot & Ankle Associates.


Francis J. Smith, D.P.M., A.B.F.A.S.
Board certified in Foot Surgery and Michael A. Klein, D.P.M. A.B.F.A.S.
Board certified in Foot Surgery​

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