Onychomycosis (also known as “Tinea unguium”) means fungal infection of the nail. It is the most common disease of the nails and constitutes about a half of all nail abnormalities.
The nail plate can have a thickened, yellow, or cloudy appearance. The nails can become rough and crumbly, or can separate from the nail bed. There is usually no pain or other bodily symptoms, unless the disease is severe.
Dermatophytids are fungus-free skin lesions that sometimes form as a result of a fungus infection in another part of the body. This could take the form of a rash or itch in an area of the body that is not infected with the fungus. Dermatophytids can be thought of as an allergic reaction to the fungus.
Patients with onychomycosis may experience significant psychosocial problems due to the appearance of the nail. This is particularly increased when fingernails are affected.
Trichophyton rubrum is the most common dermatophyte involved in onychomycosis. Other dermatophytes that may be involved are Trichophyton interdigitale, Epidermophyton floccosum, Trichophyton violaceum, Microsporum gypseum, Trichophyton tonsurans, Trichophyton soudanense (considered by some to be an African variant of T. rubrum rather than a full-fledged separate species) and the cattle ringworm fungus Trichophyton verrucosum. A common outdated name that may still be reported by medical laboratories is Trichophyton mentagrophytes for T. interdigitale. The name T. mentagrophytes is now restricted to the agent of favus skin infection of the mouse; though this fungus may be transmitted from mice and their danders to humans, it generally infects skin and not nails.The causative pathogens of onychomycosis include dermatophytes, Candida, and non-dermatophytic moulds. Dermatophytes are the fungi most commonly responsible for onychomycosis in the temperate western countries; meanwhile, Candida and non-dermatophytic moulds are more frequently involved in the tropics and subtropics with a hot and humid climate.
Other causative pathogens include Candida and non-dermatophytic moulds, in particular members of the mould genera Scytalidium (name recently changed to Neoscytalidium), Scopulariopsis, and Aspergillus. Candida mainly cause fingernail onychomycosis in people whose hands are often submerged in water. Scytalidium mainly affects people in the tropics, though it persists if they later move to areas of temperate climate.
Other moulds more commonly affect people older than 60 years, and their presence in the nail reflects a slight weakening in the nail’s ability to defend itself against fungal invasion.
There are four classic types of onychomycosis:
If all nails are affected then fungal infection is improbable. To avoid misdiagnosis as nail psoriasis, lichen planus, contact dermatitis, trauma, nail bed tumor or yellow nail syndrome, laboratory confirmation may be necessary. The three main approaches are potassium hydroxide smear, culture and histology. This involves microscopic examination and culture of nail scrapings or clippings. Recent results indicate that the most sensitive diagnostic approaches are direct smear combined with histological examination, and nail plate biopsy using periodic acid-Schiff stain. To reliably identify nondermatophyte moulds several samples may be necessary.
Pharmacologic RxTreatment of onychomycosis is challenging because the infection is embedded within the nail and is difficult to reach. As a result full removal of symptoms is very slow and may take a year or more.
Most treatments are either systemic antifungal medications such as terbinafine and itraconazole, or topical such as nail paints containing ciclopirox or amorolfine. There is also evidence for combining systemic and topical treatments.
For superficial white onychomycosis systemic rather than topical antifungal therapy is advised.
Relative effectiveness of treatments
In July 2007 a meta-study reported on clinical trials for topical treatments of fungal nail infections. The study included 6 randomised controlled trials dating up to March 2005. The main findings are:
A 2002 study compared the efficacy and safety of terbinafine in comparison with placebo, itraconazole and griseofulvin in treating fungal infections of the nails. The main findings were that for reduced fungus terbinafine was found to be significantly better than itraconazole and griseofulvin, and terbinafine was better tolerated than itraconazole.