Why does fingernail fungus itch?

Written by ann murray
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Why does fingernail fungus itch?
Pruritus is a common skin response to fungal infection. (Index finger image by free_mind from Fotolia.com)

An infection of fingernail fungus occurs when a fungal organism colonises the nail bed. This kind of infection usually starts as a white or yellow spot under the tip of the nail. As the fungus grows, the nail may become thickened and discoloured with crumbling edges, according to the Mayo Clinic. Nail fungal infections can cause moderate to severe pain and usually will not resolve without treatment. Itching or pruritus is a common skin reaction to fungal infection.


Symptoms of fingernail fungal infection include dryness, brittleness, crumbling at the edges of the nail, discolouration and pain. Discolouration can appear as white, yellow or black patches on or under the nail. Itching is common to most fungal infections, according to the Mayo Clinic. Fungal infections also can cause a foul odour.


Fungal infections usually are caused by a group of fungi called dermatophytes, though yeast and moulds also can cause fungal infection. Fungi thrive in warm, moist conditions and can populate the area between the nail and nail bed. When fungus irritates the skin, a built-in defence mechanism, itching, alerts the organism to the problem.

Risk Factors

According to the Mayo Clinic, risk factors for acquiring a fungal infection include heavy perspiration, wearing poorly ventilated clothing, having a minor injury to the skin or nail and having diabetes, circulation problems or immune disorders. Most people who acquire a fungal infection will experience itching, the body's attempt to rid itself of the irritant. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, fungal nail infections affect about 12 per cent of the U.S. population.


Treatment for fungal infections includes oral and topical anti-fungal medications. Nail fungus can be difficult to treat and can take several weeks to clear up, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. During the healing process, anti-itch creams and anti-histamines can help relieve itching.


While pruritis is one of the most common symptoms of many diseases, the itching mechanism is not fully understood. In a European study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation in 2006, researchers found that the brain triggers different kinds of itches in response to different kinds of irritants. While this is common knowledge to anyone who has felt the variety of itches the brain has to offer, for scientists it has proven to be a difficult conundrum. Research to determine the molecular, structural and neurophysiological pathways for the variety of human itches is ongoing.

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