Is it Fungus?

If you're reading this, it may be because you noticed your toe nails have turned yellowish or a flat white. You're wondering, of course, if you have toe nail fungus? So, you went to your trusty PC and happened on this article, hoping to glean some insight on a condition that seems almost embarrassing.

Well, lots of people think they have toe nail fungus when they may have a different condition altogether. The discoloration of your nails may be onycholysis, which is the result of a separation of your nail from the skin. It's not a fungus. Your nail looks different because of air and light working their way under your skin.

Painless and Common

Onycholysis is painless and common. Though it can be a sign of skin disease, infection, or the result of an injury, most often, onycholysis affects women with long fingernails. As the nail lengthens, it acts as a lever, pulling the nail up and away from the skin. This may start out as a small injury due to an insult to the nail, but if the nails remain long, healing is prevented and the condition is exacerbated.

Local irritation is often the cause of onycholysis. This type of irritation can result from too much filing, overexposure to the chemicals in manicures, or nail tip application. Other causes include an allergic reaction to nail hardener or to the adhesives used in attaching nail tips. Even keeping your hands in water for too long can cause an injury to your nails.

While onycholysis is not the same thing as onychomycosis (nail fungus), the latter can cause the former, as can the skin disease known as psoriasis. Sometimes it isn't possible to tell which condition is present, even when seen by an expert. That's when it becomes necessary to culture the nail to see if fungus is present.

Sunburn And Your Nails

Some medications can cause hypersensitivity to sunlight, and it's possible to get sunburn on the skin under your nails. This, too, can cause onycholysis. Among the drugs that can cause this oversensitivity to sun are Oxsoralen, Tetracycline, Minocycline and Naproxen. It's common for more than one nail to be affected, but if all the nails are separating this is a rare occurrence which may be a sign of anemia or an over-active thyroid.

Once onycholysis is present, the space it creates under your nail is vulnerable to infection by bacteria and yeast. When this happens, your nail may take on a tinge of white, yellow, or green. If the nail is green, there is bacterial infection present, whereas a white nail signifies the presence of a yeast infection. The nail will not be able to heal and reattach without treatment for the infection. If the nail becomes very deformed, it may be impossible to reverse the damage.

To treat a separated nail, clip off the entire area of the nail that is unattached. Keep your hands out of water as much as you can. Wear gloves when this is not possible but leave hands exposed to air as much as possible--don't cover the nails with bandages. A drying agent can be helpful, such as a prescription of 3% thymol in alcohol. Use this for a couple of months each time you wash or get your hands wet. Trim the nails every day using a nail clipper, until you see the nail begin to reattach. In some cases, oral medication may be necessary.