If you don’t pay much attention to your nails -- or if you wear a lot of colorful polish -- you might not notice the arrival of an unwelcome visitor: fungus.
But there are telltale signs when a fungal nail infection starts to settle in. Your nails may turn thick, with a yellow, brown, or chalky white tinge. They may also become brittle and crumbly, or develop cracks.
When you get a fungal nail infection, it’s a real pain to get rid of. So it’s a good idea to know how to prevent one in the first place.
Know what can put you at risk. Fungal infections are more common in older people. What’s the age connection? Seniors tend to have slower-growing nails, reduced blood circulation, and a longer history of exposure to fungi.
Men are also more likely than women to have nail fungus -- maybe because they’re more in the habit of walking around barefoot at the gym.
People with diabetes or other health conditions that weaken the immune system are also at higher risk.
Be careful around fungal hotspots. Speaking of the gym, it’s a bad idea to kick off your shoes in places with lots of germs, like locker rooms, swimming pools, or public showers. If you visit a nail salon, it should be clean and licensed. Make sure the technician uses sterilized or single-use instruments (or bring your own). The same goes for polish -- bring your own bottle from home.
Snip carefully. Keep your nails trimmed short to help prevent the spread of infection, but remember to cut with care. Don’t share your nail trimmers or other grooming tools, always clean them before each use, and never cut your cuticles. The skin around the base of the nail is there for a reason: it acts as a barrier to infection.
Clean your nails well. Don’t neglect your nails when you’re in the shower -- scrub with soap and water to help defend against infection. Wash your hands frequently, and remember that germs can take up residence underneath your fingernails, so invest in a nailbrush to clean them out.
Keep them dry. A wet, humid environment is a perfect breeding ground for fungus. How to sap the moisture: Wear gloves when you clean or wash dishes, and let them air out afterwards. Choose breathable socks and shoes, and change them often—especially after you exercise. Avoid super-tight pantyhose, which can cause you to sweat more. After a shower or bath, make sure to thoroughly pat your feet dry.
Protect against injury. When you injure your nail bed or the skin around your nails, it creates an opening for fungus. Never rip or bite off a hangnail -- in fact, just don’t bite your nails, ever.
And make sure your shoes fit well and don’t rub or pinch your feet, which can also cause problems.