Skin

Updated 31 July 2017

Do you have nail fungus?

Don't automatically assume that discoloration of your nails is caused by a fungal infection – only an expert can make an accurate diagnosis.

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If you think you have nail fungus, you might be tempted to hide your problem with nail polish or self-treat with over-the-counter antifungal products. But you should visit a doctor instead, a dermatologist suggests.

Don't be embarrassed 

"Nail fungus can be an embarrassing problem, but you shouldn't be embarrassed to discuss it with a board-certified dermatologist, who can help you manage this condition," said Dr Shari Lipner. She is an assistant professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City.

In South Africa dermatologists are registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA).

"Although nail fungus is the most common nail disorder that dermatologists treat, not every nail problem is caused by fungus, and there are several other conditions that may look similar, including nail psoriasis and nail trauma," Lipner said in an American Academy of Dermatology news release.

"If you treat something that's not a fungus as a fungus, it may not help your problem; in fact, it could make the condition worse," she explained.

fungus on toenail

This is what toenail fungus might look like up close.

Do get it checked out

"On the other hand, if you do have a fungal infection and let it go unchecked, the symptoms could worsen, possibly causing pain or interfering with your everyday activities," she said. "For some patients, nail fungus is not just a cosmetic or aesthetic problem."

Early signs of nail fungus may include lifting of the nail off the skin and yellow or white discoloration. As the condition worsens, nails may become thicker, difficult to cut and increasingly discoloured, or they may become thinner, prone to crumbling and splitting.

"If you experience bothersome nail symptoms, see a board-certified dermatologist, who can evaluate your condition and recommend the best available treatment for you," Lipner said. "It's especially important to seek treatment for nail conditions if you have underlying medical issues, such as diabetes, poor circulation or a weakened immune system," she added.

Avoid reinfection

Health24 mentions a couple of treatment options for nail fungus, including the use of an oral medication, a topical ointment, or in most severe cases, surgical removal of the nail. If you are in doubt whether you have a fungal infection or not, don't self-treat it at home. Rather get it checked out by your doctor first. You can also take several measures to care for your hands and avoid the appearance or re-appearance of a fungal infection by:

  • Keeping your nails clean and dry, especially after a bath or shower
  • Changing your socks daily, more if your feet are particularly sweaty or if you practice sport
  • Checking the credibility of the salon when you go for a manicure or pedicure and ensuring that sterile tools are used
  • Never sharing your nail files or other manicure tools
  • Not ignoring any sign of redness, soreness or infection on your fingers and toes

Image supplied by iStock

 

Ask the Expert

Skin expert

Dr Suretha Kannenberg holds a degree in Medicine and a Masters in Dermatology from the University of Stellenbosch. She is employed as a consultant dermatologist by Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Academic Hospital, where she is involved in clinical duties and the training of medical students and dermatology residents. Her areas of interest and research include vitiligo, eczema and acne. She also performs limited private practice work in the Northern suburbs of Cape Town in general and cosmetic dermatology.

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