Although fungal nail infections are usually painless, the condition can be unsightly. If you get nail fungus – more common on the toenails than the fingernails – your symptoms could include yellow or brown nails, or nails that lift up from the nail bed or split or crumble. Without treatment, say dermatologists from the American Academy of Dermatology, nail fungus can worsen and make it painful to wear shoes.
“Fungal nail infections are common and tend to run in families because of an inherited tendency, although not everyone is susceptible,” said board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, FAAD, an assistant professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. “Since fungal nail infections are contagious, it’s important to take precautions to reduce your risk of getting an infection.”
To help prevent nail fungus, Dr. Zeichner recommends the following tips:
- Keep your toenails trimmed short. This helps prevent debris from building up under the nails and minimizes the risk of nail injuries. Cut your nails straight across to keep them strong and avoid ingrown toenails.
- Wear shoes that properly fit. They should never touch your toenails. In addition, alternate the shoes you wear every day so that they can air out before you wear them again.
- Choose breathable footwear. Fungus thrives in warm, moist areas, like in hot sweaty shoes. Wear sandals whenever possible, and if you have to wear socks, choose ones that wick moisture away from your skin.
- Use antifungal sprays or powders. Spray or sprinkle it inside your shoes and on your socks before putting your shoes on to control sweat that can prompt fungal infections. This is especially important in hot weather or before a workout.
- Avoid going barefoot in public facilities like pools and locker rooms. Even when taking a shower in a public place, it’s important to wear shower shoes or flip flops, as the fungus that causes athlete’s foot, ringworm and other skin conditions may be on the floor.
- Never wear someone else’s shoes or share nail clippers and files. If you go to a nail salon for a pedicure, look around to make sure that staff are sanitizing tools and thoroughly disinfecting footbaths before each use, or use your own footbath. If the salon does not appear clean, move on.
“Nail fungus is better prevented than treated,” said Dr. Zeichner. “However, if you notice a problem with your nails, see a board-certified dermatologist right away. Nail fungus can take up to a year to clear, so it’s important to begin treatment as soon as it’s diagnosed.”
If caught early, nail fungus may clear with an over-the-counter antifungal cream, lotion, gel or lacquer. However, most fungal nail infections require prescription antifungal medications. Laser treatments may also be used.
These tips are demonstrated in “How to Prevent and Treat Nail Fungus,” a video posted to the AAD website and YouTube channel. This video is part of the AAD’s “Video of the Month” series, which offers tips people can use to properly care for their skin, hair and nails. A new video in the series posts to the AAD website and YouTube channel each month.