Common ailments

Fungal nail infection

I have a really unsightly fungal infection on the nails of both my big toes and I’d really like to do something about it before I go away on holiday this summer. I’ve also heard wearing coloured nail varnish to cover it up will only make it worse. What should I do?

It is quite common for toenails to be affected by a fungal infection. The most common sign of a fungal nail infection is the nail becoming discoloured, thickened and distorted. Some skin problems like psoriasis or repeated trauma to the nails can also produce the same appearance.

Fungal nail treatments can be treated and usually cured, but most treatments can take several months to produce results so it may not be possible to guarantee that the problem will be solved by the time you go on your summer holiday. Paint-on treatments are usually effective and can be obtained from your local pharmacy. They are easy to use but can take weeks or even months to work and require painting the treatment on to the affected nail every night. Once the infected nail eventually grows out, a healthy uninfected nail will grow below it.

Antifungal tablets are also effective but also need to be used for several months and they can cause side effects such as nausea and even liver failure. The benefits and risks need to be understood before starting these tablets.

You may wish to try the treatments from the pharmacy or discuss it with your GP. Your GP may suggest that you collect some nail clippings that can be sent to the hospital laboratory to see whether the problem is really due to a fungal infection.

During and after treatment, it’s important to look after your nails properly and ensure you maintain good foot hygiene to prevent the infection returning. The fungal spores thrive on excess moisture so avoid wearing shoes that cause your feet to get hot and sweaty. I would also advise that you avoid wearing nail varnish on a long term basis as this too will allow excess moisture to build up in the nail plate just as any covering would. It may therefore prevent proper healing and reactivate the infection. However if you still have the problem when your holiday starts you may wish to use nail varnish to improve the appearance of the nails for those couple of weeks when your feet are more on show.

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