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Preventing toenail fungus

Preventing toenail fungus may not be at the top of your to-do list, but perhaps it should be. Fungi are nearly everywhere in our environment, and they particularly love dark, moist, warm places, like inside your shoes. Warm, sweaty feet are a breeding ground for a toenail fungal infection. That makes it relatively easy to stumble upon a toenail fungal infection (onychomycosis). As many as half of all nail disorders are due to toenail fungal infection, and the condition affects about 14 percent of the population annually. Here is how to prevent toenail fungus and keep your feet healthy.

How toenail fungal infections develop

Toenail fungal infections are most often caused by microscopic organisms called dermatophytes. These organisms feed on keratin, the protein found in nails and hair. There are several reasons that increase your risk of developing toenail fungal infection. Most people get toenail fungus from a fungal skin infection such as athlete’s foot that spreads to the nail. The wrong footwear can also take a toll on your toenails. Toenails that are traumatized by pressure from ill-fitting shoes or shoes that are too small, for instance, weaken the nail and make them more susceptible to fungus.

Toenail fungus can cause the nails to become thick, discolored and brittle. If the nail becomes thickened, it can be painful and cause pressure on the underlying nail bed. The nail bed can also develop an ulcer, especially in elderly persons as the pressure increases. Toenail fungus can even cause the toenail to crumble and separate from the nail bed. This can be very painful and lead to difficulty walking and wearing shoes. Getting rid of a toenail fungal infection can be difficult because it can be resistant to treatment, which can take months. Prevention is important because once the fungal infection gets into the nail, it becomes much more difficult to treat.

Healthy habits to prevent toenail fungus

Healthy feet depend on good hygiene, so it’s important to keep your toes clean and dry.

Follow these seven tips to avoid a toenail fungal infection:

• Clip your toenails correctly. Cut your toenails with properly sanitized nail scissors or clippers and make sure to cut them straight across. Use a nail file to gently file any sharp edges.

• Wear properly fitted shoes. Shoes shouldn’t be touching your toenails in any way. Avoid wearing shoes that are too big and jamming your toenails into the end of the shoe. It is best to buy shoes in the late afternoon and make sure they have a wide toe box that won’t cramp your toes.

• Choose breathable footwear. The more air that’s able to circulate around your feet, the drier and less susceptible to toenail fungus they’ll be. Your best bet are shoes made of a breathable material like leather or canvas, according to the American College of Foot and Ankle Orthopedics and Medicine.

• Alternate your shoes. Putting on shoes that are still damp from yesterday’s sweaty workout will only increase your risk of a toenail fungal infection, so invest in a few good pairs and rotate them. Don’t wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row. Allow them to air out and dry properly between wearings. And make sure they’re placed out in the open where they can dry thoroughly.

• Avoid going barefoot in public areas. Locker rooms, public pools, showers and similar areas are loaded with fungi just waiting to get on your skin and in your toes. Always wear flip-flops, sandals or shower shoes in a moist environment.

• Disinfect regularly. Scrub your shower and disinfect it with a bleach-based cleanser regularly. Spray your shoes with an antibacterial spray, especially if you’ve worn them without socks, and wash all socks in hot water with bleach to kill any fungi. Also wash your feet daily, making sure to thoroughly dry them afterward, especially between the toes where moisture can get trapped.

• Sprinkle your shoes. Use an antifungal powder to keep fungi at bay. Sprinkle the powder inside your socks and shoes before each wearing to prevent the growth of fungi spores, suggests the American College of Foot and Ankle Orthopedics and Medicine. This is especially important in hot weather when your feet tend to sweat more.

For more information or to see a podiatrist visit The Bahamas Foot Centre, Rosetta Street, telephone 325-2996 or Bahamas Surgical Associates Centre, Albury Lane, telephone 394-5820 or email or visit

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