The fingernails and toenails of the human are built for protection – protection from bacteria, dirt, and other invaders. They are made from keratin, a hard protein found in skin and hair, It is comprised of the nail root, nail bed, nail plate, cuticle, perionychium, and hyopnychium. With all of this protection, it is hard to imagine anything getting in. This, unfortunately, is not the case. Fungi like to take root there. And once there, do not want to leave.
Nail fungus is a common problem, mostly with the older population. Also called onychomycosis, symptoms include thickened, yellow, crumbly nails, typically in the toenails. It is caused from a fungus similar to ringworm. Diabetics and the elderly in particular are more prone than the average person, primarily due to decreased circulation issues. Trauma to the nail or even a pedicure can weaken the nail’s defenses. Nail fungus is very difficult to treat. Long-term therapy with oral antifungals is necessary to effectively eliminate all of the fungi present since the nail grows so very slowly. It can take up to 4 months before a difference is noted.
Ringworm, also known as dermatophytosis is very similar to nail fungus. It acts upon those who are immunocompromised, have poor nutrition or hygiene, have psoriasis or other inflammatory diseases of the skin, contact with affected animals, use of corticosteroids, or prolonged exposure to wetness, such as in a locker room or gym. It is also more prevalent in children. There are 4 types: tinea capitis (ringworm of the scalp), tinea corporis (body), tinea cruris (jock itch), and tinea pedis (athlete’s foot).
Ringworm starts as a small bump that gradually spreads out into a circular raised rash that looks like a worm. Unlike nail fungus, ringworm is relatively simple to treat once diagnosed. Topical treatments with antifungal creams generally eliminate the problem within 1-2 weeks. Systemic treatment with oral medications may be considered if the rash is on the head or if the rash is not reacting appropriately to antifungal creams.
Preventing these infections is easier than getting rid of them. Keeping feet clean and dry is a start, along with using antibacterial soap, preferably one that contains tea tree oil. Sprinkling talcum powder on the groin and feet before putting on cotton underwear and socks also help. Since direct contact is needed for transmission of ringworm, not sharing towels, brushes or hats with another person is another way to avoid problems. Of course, washing hands frequently, using lots of friction and an antibacterial soap is one of the best methods of all.