By Godwin Ayesiga
MANY people do not take the time to care for their nails.The most they will do is cut them regularly. They ignore the fact that nails are essential components and play important functions in our body structure.
For instance they protect the tips of the toes and fingers, while fingernails help us pick up small objects and scratch ourselves.
Like any other part of the body, nails must be given attention because they can hide fungi and bacteria which cause infection. Everyone ought to focus on the shape, colour, thickness and texture of their nails.
Dr. Martin Wakupita, a skin doctor at Mulago Hospital, says finger or toe nail infections occur when fungi infect the nails.
He adds that infections usually develop on nails continually exposed to warm, moist environments such as sweaty shoes and shower floors.
Dr. Charles Simuya, a skin doctor with Mulago Hospital, says one should not confuse athleteâ€™s foot which affects the skin between the toes with nail fungus, although the two may co-exist.
They both can be caused by the same type of fungus. â€œBecause the feet affected by athleteâ€™s foot are itchy, the infection can spread to the nails as one scratches the feet,â€ Simuya says.
He says toe nails are more likely to get infected than finger nails because toe nails are often confined in warm and sweaty environment inside the shoes.
Causes of nail infection
Wakupita says nail infections are caused by a fungus known as onychomycosis. The infection makes the nails discoloured and thick.
One such infection is paronychia nail infection which is the inflammation of the tissue around the base of the nail fold.
Nail infectionscan also be caused by trauma.
Hitting and biting the nails makes the nails grow depressions. People with skin infections like eczema often get pitted and shiny nails due to constant rubbing.
Psoriasis (disorder that affects the skin and the joints) can also cause infection like nail pitting.
People with chronic illness are likely to have nail abnormalities because during the time one is sick, the nails stop growing and developtransverse lines.
Nails can turn blue from the normal pink colour if one is infected with HIV, says Wakupita.
Constant bathing or work that requires one to spend more time in water causes bacterial infections around the cuticles (skin at base of nails) and can lead to the development of pus in the proximity of the nail.
Darierâ€™s disease also known as keratosis follicularis (a genetic disorder that is manifested predominantly by skin changes) is another likely cause of infection.
How to avoid infection
Wear 100% cotton socks that absorb sweat. And have many pairs so as to change them often.
Wash your hands after touching an infected nail because nail fungus can spread from one nail to another.
Wear water proof gloves. These protect your hands from over-exposure to water.
Keep your nails short, dry, clean and file down any thick areas.
Select shoes that are spacious enough to give your toes plenty of room. Pointed shoes will press your toes together.
Properly dry your hands and feet, especially between the toes, after bathing.
Give your feet plenty of fresh air to discourage growth of fungi and bacteria.
Wear shoes in public places especially when around swimming pools and showers.
Avoid trimming and picking the skin around your nails to stop germs to the nails.
Sprinkle anti-fungal powder to keep your feet dry.
Choose a manicure and pedicure salon that sterilises its instruments.
Where appropriate, wear open shoes.
Do not use the same trimmer or file for infected nails and healthy nails.
Avoid hiding fungal infections under nail polish or artificial nails as this can worsen the infection because of the trapped moisture.
Carry your own trimmers when going for a manicure and pedicure.
Treat athleteâ€™s foot to avoid it spreading to your nails.
Avoid washing clothes of people with skin infections like ringworms.
Quit smoking. Consult your doctor for proper treatment since different causes of infection are not handled the same way.
Your nails may be an indicator of your overall health!