Yellow, brittle toenails indicate that you have toenail fungus that requires treatment. At Miami Dermatology and Laser Institute, board-certified dermatologist, Jill Waibel, MD, FAAD, treats toenail fungus for men and women living all over the world.
What is Toenail Fungus?
Toenail fungus also known as onychomycosis refers to a fungal infection affecting the nail plate or the nail bed or fingernails. Without treatment, the fungus can cause the nail to turn yellow, become brittle and even fall off the toe. Mild cases may not require treatment, but the progression of the fungus should be carefully monitored due to the fungus being contagious and can spread.
Symptoms of toenail fungus are:
- Thickening of the toenail
- Skin shedding between the toes (athlete’s foot)
- Yellow, white or brown discoloration of the toenail
- Irregular toenail shape
- Slightly foul odor
- Ragged edges
- Brittle texture
- Toenail that crumbles when cut
- Dark discoloration under the toenail
What Causes Toenail Fungus?
Toenail fungus develops when certain types of fungus infiltrate the toenail. The most common fungus that affects the toenails is dermatophyte due to their ability to obtain nutrients from keratinized material. They are usually restricted to the non-living layer of the skin because of their inability to penetrate through viable tissue. All though onychomycosis is not life threatening, it may lead to serious morbidity that includes secondary bacterial infections. This diagnosis can cause some pain and discomfort in the affected area.
Some of the risk factors for toenail fungus are:
- Not wearing shoes when walking in damp public areas
- Excessive sweating
- Diabetes and other medical conditions
- Other fungal infections
- Injuries to the skin or nail
How is Toenail Fungus Treated?
Leaving toenail fungus without treatment may lead to complications, such as discomfort and permanent damage to the toe and nail. There are numerous risk factors associated with onychomycosis which include age, family history, male, gender, and diabetes. Treatment begins with the most conservative approach, such as topical and oral medications, and laser therapy. The most effective mechanism of action for the destruction of fungal organisms is by using laser therapy because it uses non-specific bulk thermal energy that is transmitted from the laser source, similar to biologic response to infection seen with pyrexia to destroy the infectious organisms.