What’s the Difference Between Tinea Unguium and Onychomycosis?

Tinea unguium and onychomycosis are both fungal infections of the nails. While they may have similar symptoms, there are some key differences between the two conditions. Here’s what you need to know about tinea unguium and onychomycosis, including how to tell them apart.

Tinea Unguium

Causes of Tinea Unguim

Tinea unguium is caused by a group of fungi called dermatophytes. These fungi are able to infect the nails because they feed on keratin, a protein that makes up the nails.

Dermatophytes are commonly found in soil and on the skin or hair of animals. They can also be spread from person to person through contact with infected items, such as nail clippers or towels.

Symptoms of Tinea Unguim

Tinea unguium is a fungal infection that affects the nails. The most common symptom of tinea unguium is thickening of the nails. The nails may also become yellow, brown, or black. They may be crumbly or ragged. In severe cases, the nails may separate from the nail bed.

The symptoms of tinea unguium depend on how far the infection has progressed. In its early stages, tinea unguium may cause your nails to become:

  • Brittle
  • Dull
  • Thickened
  • White or yellowish in color

As the infection progresses,  the nails may become:

  • Crumbly
  • Nails may separate from the nail bed
  • Painful
  • Red or inflamed skin around the nails

If left untreated, tinea unguium can lead to permanent damage to the nails. In severe cases, the infection can spread to the surrounding skin, causing cellulitis.

Onychomycosis

Causes of Onychomycosis

Onychomycosis is also caused by fungi, but it is a different type of fungus than what causes tinea unguium. The fungi that cause onychomycosis are called yeasts and molds. These fungi are often found in warm, moist environments, such as swimming pools or public  showers.

You can get onychomycosis by coming into direct contact with the fungus. You can also get it indirectly, if you share contaminated items, such as nail clippers, with someone who has the infection.

Symptoms of Onychomycosis

The most common symptom of onychomycosis is yellowing or browning of the nails. The nails may also become thicker, crumbly, or ragged. In severe cases, the nails may separate from the nail bed.  The most common symptom of onychomycosis is a white or yellow spot under the tip of the nail. As the infection progresses, the nails may become:

  • Thickened
  • Brittle
  • Crumbly
  • Nails may separate from the nail bed
  • Painful
  • Red or inflamed skin around the nails

If left untreated, onychomycosis can lead to permanent damage to the nails. In severe cases, the infection can spread to the surrounding skin, causing cellulitis.

How to Tell the Difference

While tinea unguium and onychomycosis share some similarities, there are some key differences between the two conditions. Here’s how you can tell them apart:

  • Tinea unguium is caused by dermatophyte fungi, while onychomycosis is caused by yeast and mold fungi.
  • Tinea unguium usually causes thickening of the nails, while onychomycosis usually starts as a white or yellow spot under the nail.
  • Tinea unguium may cause nails to become yellow, brown , or black. Onychomycosis usually causes nails to become yellow or brown.Tinea unguium may cause the nails to become crumbly or ragged. Onychomycosis usually causes the nails to become thickened, brittle, or crumbly.

The best way to tell tinea unguium and onychomycosis apart is to look at the symptoms. Both conditions can cause thickening, yellowing, or browning of the nails. However, only tinea unguium can cause blackening of the nails. If your nails are black, it’s likely you have tinea unguium. If your nails are yellow or brown, it’s more likely that you have onychomycosis.

If you think you may have either tinea unguium or onychomycosis, it’s important to see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis. Treatment for both conditions is available and can help prevent further damage to the nails.

Treatment for Tinea Unguium and Onychomycosis

Both tinea unguium and onychomycosis can be treated with antifungal medications. These include oral medications like terbinafine or itraconazole and topical medications like clotrimazole or efinaconazole. Treatment typically lasts for six weeks to three months. In severe cases, oral antifungal medication may be necessary for up to a year.

Prevention of Tinea Unguium and Onychomycosis

To prevent tinea unguium and onychomycosis, practice good hygiene habits. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, especially after touching your feet or shoes. Keep your feet clean and dry by changing your socks frequently and wearing sandals in public places like locker rooms and pools. Be sure to dry your feet thoroughly before putting on socks and shoes. Don’t share towels, shoes, or clothing with others who have a fungal infection.

Risk Factors for Tinea Unguium and Onychomycosis

Risk Factors For Tinea Unguium

There are several risk factors for tinea unguium. These include:

  • Wearing tight, closed-toe shoes that don’t allow your feet to breath
  • Having sweaty or damp feet
  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Sharing contaminated items, such as towels, with someone who has a fungal infection
  • Having athlete’s foot (tinea pedis)

Risk Factors For Onychomycosis

There are several risk factors for onychomycosis. These include:

  • Being over the age of 60
  • Having diabetes or another condition that compromises the immune system
  • Having psoriasis
  • Working in a moist environment, such as a swimming pool or public shower
  • Walking barefoot

Alternative Treatments

There are several alternative treatments for tinea unguium and onychomycosis. These include:

Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil is an essential oil that has antifungal properties. It can be applied topically to the nails to help treat tinea unguium and onychomycosis.

Oregano oil: Oregano oil is an essential oil that has antifungal, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. It can be applied topically to the nails to help treat tinea unguium and onychomycosis.

Menthol rub: These topical ointments contains menthol, eucalyptus oil, and camphor. These ingredients have been shown to have antifungal properties. Menthol rub can be applied to the nails to help treat tinea unguium and onychomycosis.

Lavender oil: Lavender oil is an essential oil that has antifungal, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. It can be applied topically to the nails to help treat tinea unguium and onychomycosis.

If you’re interested in trying an alternative treatment for tinea unguium or onychomycosis, talk to your doctor first. Some essential oils can cause skin irritation, so it’s important to test them on a  small area of skin before using them on your nails.

When to See a Doctor

If you think you may have tinea unguium or onychomycosis, it’s important to see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis. Treatment for both conditions is available and can help prevent further damage to the nails.

Conclusion

Both tinea unguium and onychomycosis are fungal infections of the nails that can cause thickening, yellowing, browning, or crumbling of the nails. Blackening of the nails is a symptom of tinea unguium but not onychomyocisis. Both conditions can be treated with antifungal medications but preventing both starts with good hygiene habits like washing your hands regularly and keeping your feet clean and dry.

Scroll to Top