Nail fungus 101: What you need to know about this infection, and how to avoid it
The nitty gritty
A case of nail fungal infection is embarrassing and goes undiagnosed at best, but at its worst could lead to serious health problems. So what is it exactly, and for the morbidly curious, how the heck does fungi grow on human flesh?
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, nail fungus is a superficial infection of the nail, nail bed, and the skin around the nails which begins innocuously as a white or yellow spot under the fingernail or toenail tip. Medically known as onychomycosis, the infection is caused by a fungi strain called trichophyton rubrum, which is also the culprit behind athlete's foot and ringworm.
As it manifests, it causes your nail to discolour, distort, thicken or crumble as the fungus feeds on the keratin responsible for nail growth. A severe case of fungal infection can even lead to the nail dislodging entirely from the nail bed (feel free to Google for the horrifying visuals). To add to fungus' vile attributes, its contagious nature means it can easily spread from the site of infection to other healthy nails if it goes untreated. Typically, nail fungus is not life-threatening but those who have diabetes or a weakened immune system are at risk for developing sores that won't heal — an end game that will severely undermine your health. Besides, the dent in your self-confidence is reason enough to seek treatment quick, unless you don't mind never wearing cute sandals ever again.
As with most of its brethren such as mushrooms and yeast, fungi thrive in warm and moist environments, so Singapore's humidity is ideal for them to naturally flourish. The increased probability of picking up a parasitic mould or two means you'll have to be constantly vigilant with your personal hygiene. After all, prevention is better than cure. From practicing good nail habits to simple lifestyle changes, here's how to safeguard yourself against nail fungus.
How to avoid it in the first place
1. Keep your feet protected by wearing flip flops when you're in communal shower areas such as gym locker rooms, spas, and public pool changing rooms. All it takes a meander through the path of someone with a fungal infection, and you're next.
2. A fan of manis and pedis? Be sure your nail tech disinfects the footbaths or use a fresh plastic liner for each customer. Tools must also be disinfected after every use to prevent spread of nail fungus from client to client. It also helps if you bring your own set, which will greatly reduce the risk of infection.
3. Obviously, never share your personal nail grooming tools. The same goes for towels and all manner of footwear as these can act as transfer surfaces. Sanitising your nail files and clippers from time to time is a good idea too, if you're the type to err on the side of extra cautious.
4. Speaking of nail hygiene, be sure to keep your nails trimmed to prevent fungi and other germs from getting under them. Especially for your toes, as wearing covered shoes trap sweat and heat — two prime elements for fungus to thrive.
5. Keep your footwear fungus-free by sprinkling anti-fungal powder in them, particularly if you're a sweaty Betty down there. This will prevent fungus from growing in your shoes and transferring to your toenails.
6. Change your socks every day, or whenever they get soaked from a extra-sweaty gym sesh. A clean pair helps to prevent fungi from growing. Alternatively, go for moisture-wicking socks if you find toting around some spares to be a hassle.
7. And if you suspect you've caught a case of nail fungus, please do not try to cover it up by slapping a layer of polish over it and calling it a day. Instead, get it checked by a dermatologist or your GP, stat. The early stages when the infection is still mild means a lot less down time, and you won't need to go on stronger medication that could potentially have adverse side effects.