Don’t Be Embarrassed by Your Toenail Fungus (But Do Get It Fixed)

Nov 5, 2018

We haven’t done any scientific polling on this. But in our experience, the condition we treat that causes the most embarrassment among our patients is toenail fungus.

Nobody is ashamed of heel pain. Sprained ankles might elicit, at most, some mild embarrassment—depending on how they occurred. But fungal toenails? That’s something patients are a lot more reluctant to discuss.

But we have news for you. You have nothing to be embarrassed about!

A toenail infection may be unsightly, but it doesn’t mean you’ve failed, or done anything wrong, or should be ashamed in any way.

Here’s why.

They Are Way More Common Than You Think

Because people tend to be embarrassed about their fungal nails, they try to hide the condition from their friends and family. And because everybody else is hiding their fungal nails, everybody thinks they’re the only person in their community that has it.

But that couldn’t be further from reality!

Now, truthfully, it’s hard to get a confident estimate of the prevalence of toenail fungus since so many people never seek treatment. However, some estimates put the number as high as 12 percent of all Americans—almost 1 in 8. We’d imagine the truth is probably pretty close to that mark.

The rates are even higher for seniors—perhaps 1 out of every 5 people over age 60, and as much as half of people over age 70.

So if you’re an older adult, you’ve got a lot of company. And even if you’re still quite a bit younger—even just your 20s or 30s—your situation isn’t nearly as uncommon as you think.

Toenail Fungus

The Fact That You Got Them Doesn’t Mean You’re “Dirty”

This is another common misconception we need to disprove.

The fact that fungal toenails are unsightly isn’t the only reason many people are embarrassed by them.

In fact, many people are more embarrassed by what they think fungal toenails say about them. Specifically, they feel that fungal toenails must have occurred because they have poor hygiene, or they don’t take proper care of themselves.

Since “cleanliness is next to godliness,” fungal toenails can almost feel like a moral failure—a personal failing, something to be ashamed about.

But once again, the truth is, at the very least, much more complicated.

Truthfully, poor hygiene can be a contributing factor. People who don’t wash their feet regularly, for example, are at higher risk than those who do.

But you can wash your feet every day, live a clean life, and take good care of yourself and still get a fungal toenail infection.

For example:

  • Incidental contact with an infected surface—a pool deck, locker room floor, used linen, etc.—can spread the fungus to you even if you’re careful about washing and drying.
  • The fungus can get under your nail via microscopic cuts in skin or tiny gaps between the nail plate and the toe—things you have virtually no control over.
  • You could get the fungus from a pedicure if your salon hasn’t properly sterilized their equipment before you arrived.
  • If circulation to your toes has been reduced by age or by a medical condition like diabetes, your body is less able to fight off a fungal infection.

Yes, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk and try to prevent infections. Wash your feet every day. Don’t go barefoot in public places. Change shoes and socks when they get damp and don’t wear the same pair two days in a row. Pre-treat your shoes with antifungal sprays or powders if you have a tendency to sweat a lot. Keep your nails neatly trimmed.

But the unfortunate truth is that there’s no way to guarantee you’ll never get fungal toenails even if you make no mistakes with your hygiene. Sometimes they just happen. You don’t need to blame yourself.

The Fact That You STILL Have Them Doesn’t Mean You’re “Dirty,” Either

Okay, so if getting fungal toenails isn’t necessarily a reflection of poor hygiene, what about living with fungal toenails that don’t improve for months or even years at a time?

The truth is that this is in no way a reflection of your current hygiene habits.

Once the toenail has been infected, medical care is the only way to eliminate it. You can wash your feet every day and maintain the highest standards of personal hygiene, and it won’t make a difference.

The nail plate itself will protect the fungi underneath, and they’ll never “run their course” because the hard keratin in the nail will provide all the sustenance they need, indefinitely.

Effective Treatment Is Available

So by now, you hopefully already understand that fungal toenails aren’t something you should have to feel embarrassed or ashamed about.

That said, they’re still unsightly. And you’re probably still going to want to get rid of them for that reason alone.

We can help with that.

Fungal toenails are a stubborn infection that take time to heal. And even once the fungi are killed, you’ll still have to go through the slow process of waiting for your nails to grow out and healthy nail to grow in.

But with a little time, patience, and discipline, you have a great chance at getting your healthy nails back. A six to twelve week course of antifungal medications paired with daily prevention habits (such as using antifungal sprays in your shoes), when practiced faithfully, offers high cure and low recurrence rates for most individuals.

So instead of feeling bad about yourself, go out there and get those gorgeous nails back!

To schedule an appointment with the Foot & Ankle Center of Oklahoma today, give us a call at (405) 418-2676.


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