What is a fungal nail infection?
A fungal infection of the nail, also known as onychomycosis or tinea Unguium, .is a disease of the keratin layer under the nail. These infections can be difficult to treat and affect approximately 3% of the population in the UK. Fungal Nail Infections are rare in children, but the incidence increases with age. If you are aged over 60, there is a one in five chance you will have a nail infection and if you have diabetes, this increases to a one in three chance. The toenails are most commonly affected, although you may also get infections in the fingernails. Untreated fungal nail infection causes the nail to become thickened, weakened and prone to fragmentation. They may also discolour and become brown or yellow. It is important that treatment is sought as early as possible, as nail infections are much easier to treat in their early stages. In some individuals, a nail infection can lead to more serious complications, especially if there are associated medical conditions or poor circulation. These infections are not merely cosmetic and can spread to other nails if left untreated. Over 90% of skin and fungal nail infections in man are due to fungi known as dermatophytes, i.e. filamentous fungi.
Some other nail conditions can look quite similar to nail infections. These include psoriasis of the nails, nail damage and changes caused by ageing through poor arterial circulation in the lower limbs.
How common are nail infections?
In the UK, the incidence of fungal nail infections is considered to be about 3% of the general population. The risk of getting a fungal nail infection increases with age. The typical fungal nail infection patient is a middle-aged or older man or woman. In children fungal nail infection is very rare. Some medical conditions can make a person more prone to contracting a nail infection, such as diabetes.
Fungal nail infections are also common amongst those persons practising sports, especially where they are using public changing rooms. Fungal spores can be passed onto the changing room floor and picked up by unsuspecting individuals, so nails should be checked frequently for any changes or discolouring.
Incidence in the UK: