Nail fungus infection usually begins with the toes. Initially you might just notice some vexing yellow discoloration of a toenail. What you won’t notice is that the network of fine fungal mycelia (such as branching stalks) which are spreading out from the stuffy tissue under the toenail. The fungal growth tends to not spread into the tissue of the toe, at least not immediately.
Your body’s immune system is holding it at bay. Rather, it develops through the matrix of the toenail, getting nutrients from keratin, a protein found in toe- and fingernails. Nails aren’t living tissue, and they do not create an immune reaction to the invader, so a nail fungus infection can become well established in the gut before you even know it is there. The fungi that invade claws are called dermatophytes, which means, roughly, fungi that like skin.
At the site of infection, usually close to the tip of the toe, a fungal colony develops (think of a slice of bread which has gone moldy: every spot of mould is a colony). As the colony gets larger and better developed, it is going to begin producing spores which may be spread around. They get into shoes and socks, rugs, shower stalls, and bedding. They get spread to other feet, and if conditions are right, they will establish a fresh nail fungus infection there.
Eventually, they might even spread to the fingernails. In an innovative nail fungus infection, the toenail becomes completely broken down. The fungus has spread across the matrix of the nail and digested the keratin so the toenail becomes thick and flaky, or powdery. Many dermatophytes create pigments – secretions which are yellow, brown, black, black, and even red (again, think of a very moldy piece of cheese, or fruit and all of the colors you will see there).
These colors may be observable in the crumbling nail. The skin around the nail often becomes inflamed as well, because the majority of the dermatophytes that cause nail fungus infection can irritate skin also. The skin may become red and irritated looking, or it might just be dry and scaly, appearing more like dry skin than a disease.
In time, the foot becomes quite uncomfortable, and sporting shoes could be extremely painful. Let’s hope you do not allow your nail fungus infection reach that point before you seek treatment.