Smokin' Toes

Onychomycosis-What It Is And How It Starts

Toe nail fungus, onychomycosis in medical terms, is an infection that is caused by the same types of fungi that cause athlete's foot. The two conditions are often found running together and, as the name implies, athletes can be prime targets for these conditions. That's because their feet are more often subject to the perfect conditions to grow fungus-warm, dark, moist conditions found when sweaty feet are trapped in closed shoes.

Dr. Nardo Zaias, director of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach says, "It starts in feet when you're a child and grows from the sole to the nail bed." He goes on to say, "In teenagers, it goes into the groin and causes jock itch and sometimes to the body, causing ringworm. But the toenail is a savings bank. The fungus goes into the toenail and stays there for life."

It's Everywhere!

The fungi are found everywhere, not just in the usual suspected hiding places of locker rooms, hotels and public pools. They are also found in most people's homes.

Onychomycosis can run in families where there is an inherited vulnerability to it. Diabetics are also at higher risk as are the elderly. There is another group of people who are at elevated risk for toe nail fungus as well, and that is those who smoke. It has been found that smoking actually raises the risk of toenail infection because it restricts circulation of blood to the feet, just as diabetes does. Without adequate blood flow to the toes, the nails become more vulnerable to infection.

How Blood Flow Figures Into The Equation

Blood is the delivery vehicle for oxygen and nutrients to the body's organs and tissues. The circulatory system, which is made up of blood vessels, is the supply routes the blood flows through and inside every healthy blood vessel is a coating, you could compare it to Teflon, which ensures the blood flows smoothly through the vessels. When a person smokes, or if a person is the recipient of second-hand smoke, the carbon monoxide which is produced by smoking damages the important cells that coat the blood vessels. This destruction allows for fats and plaque to stick to the walls of the vessels. As a result, blood vessels are constricted and the flow of life-giving oxygen is cut off.

Poor blood flow caused by smoking is a common risk factor in toe nail fungus because of the circulatory difficulties that arise from the habit. The immune system can also be weakened as a result of smoking which gives rise again to the risk of fungus.

Added Preventative Measures

Proper hygiene, socks that wick away perspiration, adequate foot care which would include keeping nails short and dry, using antifungal sprays or powders and washing hands after touching infected feet are all useful ways of preventing the spread of toe nail fungus. Add to these behaviors a healthy diet and smoking cessation and your arsenal of weapons to fight toe nail fungus will be well stocked.