Causes: What Is Toenail Fungus?

Toenail fungus is a type of fungues that grows in your toenails and sometimes on your fingernails. The condition is medically called onychomycosis (on-ee-ko-me-KO-sis) or tinea of the nails.

Toenail fungus can develop from a number of different fungi, but the family of fungi called dermatophytes is most likely to affect your nail. As this fungi grows on your nails, it feeds on the tough protein found in the hard surface of your nails called keratin. The fungus basically eats away at your nail causing nail damage, and in some cases, nail loss. The condition can alse be quite painful, although this symptom does not always occur.

Fingernail fungus is caused by the same fungus, but tinea of the nails is much more common on the toenails than the fingernails because toenails are more often exposed to dark, damp environments. Toenail fungus is also the same type of fungus that causes athlete's foot, and it's possible to have both conditions at the same time.

Toenail fungus is a relatively common problem for about half of Americans by the age of 70. The likelihood of developing toenail fungus increases with age, but there are many other risk factors that may leave some younger people more susceptible than others. Onychomycosis accounts for half of all nail disorders treated, and it also the number one reason why people visit foot specialists.

Toenail fungus can take a long time to fully cure, with the length of recovery time lengthening relative to the amount of time the condition went untreated. That's why it's important to treat toenail fungus as soon as it's noticed and diagnosed.