Recognize nail fungus: origin and symptoms

Recognize nail fungus: origin and symptoms

Nail fungus and skin fungus are challenging to avoid. But not every contact necessarily leads to infection. The pathogens become a danger when minor wounds or a poor immune system open the gates for them. Mushrooms thrive in warm, humid climates. That’s why they tend to spread on the feet, particularly like “athlete’s bart” between the toes or as nail fungus, especially on the nail of the big toe. In the following, you will learn how to recognize the symptoms of nail fungus and what causes and promotes the development of nail fungus.

Athletes’ bodies and nail fungus are closely related.

Nail fungus is also known as onychomycosis (onycho = nail, mycosis = fungal disease). This fungal disease has a lot in common with the athlete’s part because the pathogens of both forms are closely related in most cases, so nail fungus can develop from the athlete’s body and vice versa. About half of all toenail fungal infections are preceded by an athlete’s body.

In two-thirds of the cases, the cause is filamentous fungi (dermatophytes, especially Trichophyton rubrum). The nail fungus is also known as tinea unguium. Rarer culprits are yeast (Candida) or mould.

The incubation period, i.e. the time from infection to the onset of symptoms, is about one to two weeks for filamentous fungi.


What other causes are behind nail fungus?

For the fungi to cause nail fungus, however, certain factors must also be present. These include, for example:

  • a hereditary vulnerability
  • an immune deficiency
  • Vascular or nerve diseases (angiopathies, neuropathies), such as those that occur in diabetes or other metabolic disorders
  • deformities of the feet
  • Shoes that are too tight promote the development of nail fungus, especially on the big and little toe.
  • repeated injuries (e.g. during sports)
  • acute inflammation or injury to the skin
  • heavy sweating
  • Psoriasis on the nails

Nail fungus most commonly occurs on the toes. Women are particularly often affected here since tight shoes and misaligned feet, which high heels can promote, increase the risk of developing nail fungus.

In rare cases, a bacterial infection can also cause nail fungus. For example, if bacteria get into the nail due to an injury, they trigger an infection there, the symptoms of which are similar to those triggered by a fungal infestation. Wet germs, so-called pseudomonas, are often responsible for bacterial nail infections.

Nail fungus on hand

Nail fungus on the hand occurs much less frequently than nail fungus on the toenails since no different triggers promote the development of nail fungus on the hands. Nevertheless, a nail fungus infection is also possible on the hand. Symptoms are no different than those seen with nail fungus on the toes.

Nail fungus on the fingers affects men more often than women. Nail fungus is generally less common in children.


Recognize nail fungus: typical symptoms.

Fungal spores change the structure of the nail material. The following symptoms are typical of nail fungus on the toenail or fingernail, whereby the fungal infection can manifest itself in different ways and is often difficult to recognize, especially at the beginning:

  • The nail thickens.
  • The affected nail becomes whitish or yellowish-brownish. A grey discolouration is also possible.
  • White spots and stripes appear on the nail, which can appear in longitudinal and transverse grooves.
  • The nail becomes brittle and crumbles when cut – individual layers may split off.
  • Sometimes, the nail loosens and lifts off the nail bed.
  • An inflamed nail bed is also not uncommon.
  • Toenail fungus can cause pain when walking or wearing tight shoes.
  • A green or black nail can indicate a bacterial nail fungus.

If dermatophytes, i.e. filamentous fungi, are at work, the changes usually begin at the nail’s free edge. Suppose yeast fungi are responsible for the infection. In that case, the discolouration is more likely to show up on the nail wall, i.e. where the nail grows out – the nail that grows back is immediately infected with the fungus. 

Fungal nail infections are often difficult to see with the naked eye. Therefore, many sufferers do not notice the nail changes or do not associate them with a fungal infection.

Nail fungus is contagious.

The fungi are transmitted from person to person, primarily through spores in the small skin scales everyone sheds. That is why it is widespread to get infected where you walk, Barbara, and there is a pleasant climate for fungi, i.e.:

  • in the pool
  • in the sauna
  • in the gym locker room or
  • in the hotel shower

However, a toenail fungus can also develop in an athlete’s body so that the infection can happen “in a roundabout way”.

Diagnosis of nail fungus

An examination of the nail material as part of a medical examination provides complete security. A nail sample is taken in the form of nail chips. Stained with a special ink, the fungal spores are visible. These are used to create a fungal culture that provides information about the type of pathogen – this is important for the right therapy.


Nail fungus carries risks.

Fungal nail diseases are not just a cosmetic problem. Nail fungus infection is hazardous for people with diabetes. Because the spores cause injuries to the nail and the surrounding skin, which bacteria can penetrate, poorly controlled diabetes or circulatory disorders threaten severe infections of the feet and legs.

If a nail fungus on the body is not treated, there is a risk of erysipelas on the leg.

Check nails regularly

If you are no longer flexible enough to check your nails carefully, you should visit a podiatrist occasionally. Podiatrists are state-recognized medical pedicurists who know the unique risks associated with diabetes and can identify nail fungus with a trained eye. In this way, toenail fungus can be detected and treated early.

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