About Toenail Fungus
Fungal nails, or onychomycosis, is a common condition that affects around 35 million Americans and can range in severity from a slight cosmetic nuisance to a painful condition that limits a person's ability to wear shoes comfortably or even to walk normally.
How Does Fungus Get into Toenails?
The pathogens that cause nail fungus infection usually enter the skin through tiny cuts or small separations between the nail and the nail bed (the tissue located beneath the nail). These cuts and separations can be caused by minor injuries to the nail or skin through repetitive microtrauma from activities such as running or tennis. They also can be caused by microscopic cuts in the skin due to overzealous pedicures and improperly sterilized instruments. Once the fungus enters, it then flourishes under and within the toenail due to the warm and moist environment.
What Are the Symptoms of Nail Infection?
One or more of the following can indicate the presence of toenail fungus:
• Discolored nails
• Yellow steaks under the nail
• Distorted or thickened nails
• Brittle, crumbly or ragged nail
• Nails separated from the underlying skin
• Buildup of debris (nail fragments, skin) under the nail
• White spots or streaks on the surface
Who is Most at Risk?
While anyone can develop toenail fungus, any of the following can increase an individual's chances of developing a fungal nail infection:
• Diminished blood circulation
• Slow growing nails
• A family history of fungal infection (genetics)
• Those prone to heavy perspiration
• Having a humid or moist work environment
• Wearing socks and shoes that prevent ventilation
• Walking barefoot in damp public areas such as swimming pools, gyms and locker rooms
• Tight-fitting footwear that crowds the toes
• Exercise that causes repeated minor trauma to the nail
• A previous injury or infection to the skin or nail
• Aids patients or those with other weakened immune system diseases
Treatment Options for Fungal Toenail Infections
How long an individual has had the fungus is a definite factor in the length and type of treatment, and there is no single treatment that is effective in all individuals. There are risks and benefits with each treatment option and it's important to discuss the options with a doctor such as a podiatrist who is trained in the treatment of toenail fungus.
The primary issue with topical medications is their ability to penetrate the nail bed (the tissue beneath the toenail) and the nail root. Some individuals have seen noticeable improvement using topical medications. The drugs are applied daily for up to twelve months and there are no significant side effects.
Prescription oral antifungal medications have been available for many years and are a major treatment option for podiatrists and dermatologists when treating fungal toenails. According to research, the cure rate for oral medications is approaching 80 percent. The drugs must be taken for six to twelve weeks. However, the drawbacks to these medications are their potential side effects including headache, diarrhea, upset stomach and skin rash. Serious side effects include the risk of liver damage and heart failure.
Laser treatment can be effective in eliminating nail infections and restoring clear nails and most individuals experience at least some improvement. With laser treatment, the laser light passes through the nail and the surrounding tissue. The laser light is absorbed by the pigment in the fungi, which causes the pigment to heat, and this heat kills or damages the fungal organism. This can result in the nail growing normally. Several treatments over the course of a few months are needed to ensure the best results. A clinical study reported no adverse effects related to the laser.
If you think you are suffering from toenail fungus, we encourage you to make an appointment at the Village Podiatry Laser Center. Our laser-certified podiatric physicians will consult with you to confirm a diagnosis and get you on the path to healthy nails.
Village Podiatry Laser Centers
Atlanta - Emory University Hospital Midtown
550 Peachtree Street
Atlanta, GA 30308
Atlanta – St. Joseph's Hospital
5673 Peachtree Dunwoody Road
Atlanta, GA 30342
Marietta – Kennestone
792 Church Street, N.E.
Marietta, GA 30060