No one likes to find out that that narly looking toenail which has been festering for months is actually a fungus. Toe fungus is more common than you think and like most medical conditions, has a long difficult to pronounce and spell name-onchomycosis.

The nail looks as if someone had pored acid or some other caustic substance on it. The color may vary from off yellow to black. The nail becomes thickened, has irregular borders and may even flake off tiny bits of chalky substance. At times, the infection can spread to the nearby skin or be spread from the skin to the nail. Usually, the web spaces or those areas between the toes are affected.

What causes this nasty infection? Fungal organisms, it turns out, are just about everywhere. They thrive on moist, warm and cramped environments-just like that within your shoes and your socks(which you probably haven’t changed/washed as often as you should have). Play on a team? Well, these funghi love to move around and are transmitted relatively easily to others.

Fungal infections of the skin or ringworm are much more easily treated than those of the nails. This might be because the nails are thick and thus difficult for antifungal compounds to reach. You could try antifungal creams such as Lamisil, but success rates are mediocre at best and you would need to treat for at least a year. Antifungal oral medications work somewhat better and there many which your doctor could prescribe. However, like any medications, these pills have some potential worrisome side effects including blood and liver problems. Laser therapy, not covered by most insurances is expensive but easy to perform and works reasonably well. If the nail really, really bothers you, you could have it removed.

Prevention of these infections isn’t easy. Yes, change your socks after you work out and yes wash those feet! Still, even with the best of measures, you can still become victim of our evolutionary distant cousins.