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Toenail fungus may not be a favorite topic at the dinner table, but as the culprit in an estimated forty to fifty percent of all nail problems it deserves our attention in less public settings. In technical jargon, toenail fungus and fingernail fungus share the medical term onychomycosis, although the condition most often occurs in the toenails.

Toenail fungus is an infection of the nail bed or base caused by a host of fungal microorganisms, most commonly Trichophyton, Epidermophyton, or Microsporum. These fungi are living, growing organisms that flourish in moist, warm environments. They attack the nail bed through minuscule injuries, sometimes affecting only the tip of the nail and at other times spreading throughout the whole nail. Noticeable changes in the nail include thickening, hardening, discoloration, brittleness, and swelling.

Toenail fungus manifests these changes only at the nail area, whereas athlete’s foot usually affects only the skin, but the two are not mutually exclusive. The same microorganisms sometimes cause toenail fungus as well as athlete’s foot, with the two infections sharing living quarters among your digits and doing quite nicely. Although both problems are unpleasant and persistent, onychomycosis carries more potential for nail beddamage. At its best, toenail fungus will simply make your feet look embarrassingly unattractive and ill-suited for open-toed footwear. At its worst, onychomycosis can lead to increased discomfort and the eventual loss of the affected toenail.

Your chances of encountering these troubles have risen in recent years, thanks in part to the upswing in public sports and exercise centers, which are excellent breeding grounds and transmission sites for fungal infections. In the United States, the estimated prevalence of toenail fungus is approximately thirteen percent, and about half of all Americans are likely to suffer from the ailment by the time they reach age seventy. Onychomycosis is somewhat choosy about its targets, preferring the largest and smallest toenails, but it can occur in any one of the foot’s digits. It shows no deference for age, rarely occurring in children but increasing in incidence with advancing years.

As these facts suggest, onychomycosis continues to plague us, and once it survives any journey to a nail bed it enjoys a built-in shield, in the form of the toenail that covers and protects it. This makes toenail fungus stubbornly resistant, so eradicate it and prevent its recurrence through proper, early treatment. Then rescue those sandals from the back of your closet.

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