Getting your nails done is a great way to pamper yourself, but beware of the danger of fungal infection.
To avoid nasty fungal infections, steering clear of salons that don’t seem clean is not enough. You also have to pay attention to how your nails are treated. Techniques used in manicures can weaken the nail, making it easier for fungus to penetrate, said Dr Regina Lim, Consultant, Department of Dermatology, Changi General Hospital. Tools harbouring the fungi, or contact with infected persons, including salon personnel, can also lead to fungal infections.
Nail fungal infections are caused by fungi that thrive in warm and moist environments. They invade the body through small cuts on the skin (which can be caused when cuticles are cut and pushed back), through the small gap between the nail and nail bed, or through the nail itself if it has been weakened by nail varnish, removers, other chemicals or injury. Nails become discoloured and thicker, turning green, white or black depending on the type of fungus.
Fungal infections develop more commonly on toenails as the moist, dark and warm environment inside covered shoes is a hotbed for fungi. Acrylic nails can also lead to such infections if they are not fitted properly. “If you have gaps between your nail and the acrylic nail, an infection can be hidden from view, and a lot of damage can be done before you discover it,” said Dr Lim. She added that another danger of keeping long acrylic nails is accidental injury to the natural nail. If the acrylic nail is caught in objects, both nails can be ripped off.
Treating the problem
Some nail fungal infections may not cause irritation, but they shouldn’t be ignored, said Dr Lim. “The infection can take over your whole nail and destroy it completely with time. If you were to touch an infected toenail, you could inadvertently spread the infection to other parts of your skin,” she said.
Treatments, for instance, creams, topical lacquers or oral drugs, take time. Infections are difficult to treat and often, a new healthy nail needs to grow and replace the infected one. Infections also often return even when symptoms have cleared. The two common treatments include topical anti-fungal nail solutions or lacquer, and oral anti-fungal medication.
Using topical treatment is often slow as it is difficult for the medication to penetrate the nail. A more effective option is to take oral anti-fungal medication. But this has potential side effects, and similarly, may take months to show results. “It is best to take good care of your nails and avoid getting a fungal infection in the first place,” said Dr Lim. “If you’ve had it once, it is more likely to recur.”
Top tips to avoid a nail fungal infection:
1. Keep your nails short, dry and clean. If your hands are in contact with water often, use rubber gloves to avoid overexposure
2. Use anti-fungal spray or powder on your feet and shoes
3. Wear open-toed shoes, or if you regularly wear covered footwear, make sure you wear synthetic socks that keep your feet dryer than regular ones
4. Don’t trim or pick at the skin around your nails, so germs can’t get in
5. Don’t walk around barefoot in public places
6. If you’ve touched an infected nail, wash your hands thoroughly