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Houston podiatrist Dr. Andrew Schneider discusses causes of thick toenailsYou may have finally gotten tired of not being able to look at your toenails without getting upset that one or more of your toenails are thick and discolored. But does that mean that you have a fungus infection? My name is Dr. Andrew Schneider and I'm a podiatrist in Houston, TX. 

Our toenails go through changes. They naturally thicken a bit as we age. They can be damaged from trauma. They are also susceptible to becoming infected. 

A fungal infection of the toenails, called #onychomycosis, is very common infection. When the toenails are infected, it changes their appearance. It makes them thicker, yellow in color, and you see a dry, powdery substance
coming from beneath them. 

How do #ToenailFungalInfections start? First of all, fungus is natural flora on our feet and in our shoes. This is especially true in warm and humid climates. Plus, our shoes are dark and end up moist from our feet perspiring. That makes them even more attractive to fungus developing. 

Fungus is an opportunist. That means that if a situation occurs that allows fungus to infect, it will do so. The most common of these situations is trauma. Trauma comes in many forms. It can happen when you stub your toe or if your toe is stepped on. There are other forms of trauma that are less obvious. For instance, the repetitive pressure of your toes hitting the top or end of the shoes. This is microtrauma and is not usually painful. It can break down beneath the toenail and make open it to a fungus infecting your toenail. 

When you get a fungal infection of your toenails, sometimes it only affects one toe. Other times several have the infection, and sometimes they're all infected. Technically the infection is contagious. But it is also encapsulated beneath the nail, which makes it less contagious than an athlete's foot infection. A fungal infection of your toenails are not usually painful, but they can be because of how the nail thickens and deforms. 

Even if there is no pain, you should get the nail treated. Sometimes there is no fungal infection, but trauma to the toenails cause them to thicken. There are times where the thickened nail grows out. Other times the toenail can stay thickened. This is very common in athletes, such as runners. In cases where the toenail stays thickened because of trauma, there are topical preparations that might help improve thin and clear the nail. A lot of times the nail may look like it as a fungal infection, but I can test the nail to see if it is thickened due to fungus or if it is reacting to trauma. 

There are other cases where the toenails thicken for other reasons. Another type of thickening of the toenails is when the toenails take on a
clubbed appearance. Although #ClubbedNails can be hereditary, it usually is caused by an underlying medical condition. These can include heart disease, lung disease, GI disorders, and cancer. You may notice your nails are wider and rounded, have a downward curve, and have the appearance that the toenails are lifting. You also May notice bulging at the tips of the toes. Clubbed nails are not dangerous in and of themselves. They might be an indication that something is going on medically and I'd suggest you visit with your primary care physician.