Increased immigration also could be a factor contributing to the increase, says Charles Lynde, MD, a senior dermatologist at the Lynde Centre for Dermatology and associate professor with the department of dermatology at the Toronto Hospital in Canada. Nail fungus is more prevalent in certain parts of the world, like China, he says.
"Certainly, the rates have increased over the last 30 to 40 years," Lynde, who was not involved with the study, tells WebMD. "But whether it's increased rapidly over the past four to five years, I'm not so sure."
He agrees that nail fungus is very prevalent. "You can even get it by going out in your own backyard without shoes. Or pick it up from the carpet if another family member has it. ... Some people actually get pain from it. You can go on to get an infected toe, which is particularly a problem with diabetics and people with circulatory problems."
But people now are more aware that something can be done to treat nail fungus, according to Lynde. He points to two drugs taken by mouth that have been added to the treatment arsenal over the past few years to combat the condition -- Sporanox and Lamisil.
Sporanox is taken for a week every four weeks over a 12-week period while Lamisil is taken continuously for three months. With either medicine, it takes nine to 12 months for discoloured fingernails to grow out and one to one-and-a-half years for the toenails to grow out.
Lynde encourages people with infected nails to get some medical attention. Nail fungus is not life threatening, but there's no reason to not have nails treated, particularly if it makes someone feel self-conscious, which it often does, he says.
Some simple steps can help prevent nail fungus. Lynde suggests wearing flip-flops at the local swimming pool or at the gym, drying the feet fully, and then powdering shoes and feet immediately afterward.