Toenail fungus (the medical term is Onychomycosis) affects about half of Americans by the age of 70. The incidence increases as people age. Fungal infections occur when microscopic fungi gain entry through a small trauma in the nail, then grow and spread in the warm, moist environment inside a person’s socks and shoes.

Symptoms of toenail fungus include yellowing, thickening or crumbling of the nail, streaks or spots down the side of the nail, and sometimes complete loss of the nail. Normally, nails are shiny, with healthy pink skin showing through. With fungal infection, toenail color can vary from brown or yellow to chalky white.

Toenail fungus can be picked up in damp areas such as public gyms, shower stalls or swimming pools, and can be passed among family members. The condition can also spread from one toe to another. Athletes and people who wear tight-fitting shoes or tight hosiery that cause trauma to the toes or keep the feet from drying out are at higher risk. Other risk factors include not drying the feet thoroughly after bathing or exercise, a compromised immune system, and diabetes.

Toenail fungus can be difficult to treat, so it’s best to try and prevent it. Walking barefoot where other people’s feet have been puts you at risk for getting the infection. Wear protective sandals, water shoes or “flip-flops” in public showers, pool areas and gyms. Wash your feet regularly and dry them thoroughly, especially between the toes. Keep toenails trimmed, and disinfect any pedicure tools before using them.

Winneshiek County Public Health offers Happy Feet Clinics four times each month to persons who need assistance with regular foot care and toenail trimming. Assessments are performed by a registered nurse prior to providing care. Referrals are made to a podiatrist or MD as appropriate. Call the Winneshiek County Public Health Office at 563-382-4662 for clinic days and times.