Elderly Nail Fungus: Prevention and Early Treatment

Nail Fungus in the Elderly

With aging, the body is subject to more difficulties, such as elderly nail fungus. According to B. E. Elewski, of the Case Western University Department of Dermatology, just being over the age of 60 exposes a person to the risk of nail fungus.

There are several reasons for this. The immune system of elderly persons, generally, is less hardy than younger people. Not only does this make elderly persons more prone to nail fungus, but it makes a recurrence of this condition more likely. The Mayo Clinic notes that elderly people often have other health problems, such as diabetes, compromised circulation, or other skin conditions that contribute to enhanced vulnerability. The nails of elderly persons also grow more slowly, which hinders the production of new skin cells to replace infected ones.

Symptoms of nail fungus, on the finger or toenails, are thickened nails with discoloration as well as the crumbling nails, which appear and feel brittle or look ridged or misshapen.

Treating Nail Fungus

The most common treatment for nail fungus is anti-fungal tablets taken orally. However, oral anti-fungal medications take long to work. The Mayo Clinic says they are less effective in older adults and side effects can include liver damage, which is frightening. Disclosing any liver or heart conditions before the treatment is vital.

Elewski notes that drug treatments tend to be ineffective against nail fungus because nails are so protected by their hard sheath. Fungi are readily trapped and pressed against the skin by the nail, which grows slowly. In fact, new nail growth is one of the best treatments for nail fungi.

Oral anti-fungal drug treatments usually involve nail growth stimulation. The Mayo Clinic warns the treatments may take up to four months to work, as may others such as topical nail polish with medications. A last resort, surgery, involves removal of the entire nail and may take a full year for the nail to grow back.

If the nail fungus is not painful or disfiguring and not accompanied by other diseases, the Mayo Clinic recommends home remedies such as spreading Vicks Vaporub on the nails because it has been shown to be fairly effective. Other home remedies include snakeroot extract and tea tree oil.

Preventing Initial and Recurring Nail Fungus Infections

It is difficult to dispose of nail fungus. According to Diana Arevalo, writing for the Global Nail Fungus Organization, 20% to 40% of patients experience a recurrence after initial treatment. Thus, prevention is key.

The steps to preventing nail fungus are like those of preventing recurrences, including cleanliness and protection. Keeping hands, fingers, toes, and toenails clean and dry is vital. Well-trimmed nails are less prone to fungus than those allowed to grow long.

Because toenail fungus is more common than fingernail fungus, rubber slippers should be worn always in the shower or in public bathing areas. It is also important to avoid injury to the nails because a cracked toenail can invite fungus or a recurrence. Fungal spores can penetrate even minute cuts on the feet. Used shoes are tempting hiding places for fungus, so even comfortable old favorites should be replaced regularly. Changing socks often and wearing shoes that allow air in to circulate around the feet are sound preventive measures.

Protecting Caregivers from Contracting Nail Fungus

Caregivers and family members can contract a fungus from an infected senior person, especially when caregiving involves bathing, putting on socks and shoes, or trimming nails. Caregivers should wash their hands often, especially after contact with an elderly person’s feet or clothing when the person has a nail fungus. Thin latex gloves, which are inexpensive and come in large quantities in a small box, are helpful when handling the extremities of an elderly person with nail fungus. They are available at most pharmacies. Using them protects caregivers from contracting or spreading the infection.

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American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Fungus Infections: Preventing Recurrence. Available online at http://www.aocd.org/?page=FungusInfectionsP. Accessed February 17, 2017.

Arevalo, D. (January 27, 2017). 5 easy Steps to Avoiding Nail Fungus Recurrence. Global Nail Fungus Organization. Available online at https://nationalnailfungus.org/5-easy-steps-to-avoid-nail-fungus-recurrence/. Accessed February 17, 2017.

Elewski, B. E.. (July 1998). Onychomycosis: Pathogenesis, Diagnosis, and Management. Clinical Microbiology Review, 11(3): 415-429. Available online at:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC88888/. Accessed February 17, 2017.

Mayo Clinic. Nail Fungus. Available online at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/nail-fungus/basics/symptoms/con-20019319. Accessed February 17, 2017.

Patient. Who Develops Fungal Nail Infection (tinea unguium)?

Available online at: http://patient.info/health/fungal-nail-infections-tinea-unguium. Accessed February 17, 2017.