Toenail fungus is a common problem and can happen to anyone. It is characterized by thickness, discoloration, darkness, brittleness and/or flaking of the nails and the big and little toes are most commonly involved. These issues can become worse over time if not treated and can lead to a fungal infection of the skin as well (athlete’s foot).
Fungus is a slow growing organism that thrives in a warm, moist and dark environment and shoes, especially closed toed shoes, are a perfect place for it to reproduce. Most people with a healthy immune system fight off fungus and prevent infection of the nails. However, people with a compromised immune system, such as those with diabetes, HIV, poor circulation, cancer and those taking certain medications, are at increased risk for nail fungus.
The most common cause of contracting fungus is from trauma to the nails, which opens an avenue for fungus to get in. This doesn’t have to be from dropping something on the toe. It can be from repetitive small traumas, such as wearing tight shoes, certain walking patterns that increase the pressure on the big toenail and pedicures. The fungus lives deep at the base of the nail and infects the nail as it grows out making it necessary for treatment to get deep to the root.
Fighting toenail fungus has proven very difficult. It is hard to contract, but once fungus gets inside it is very difficult to get rid of. However, there is hope. There are many treatments available, including over the counter and prescription topical medications, prescription oral medications, laser therapy and total removal of the toenail. Each of these treatments can be effective against nail fungus depending upon the type of and severity of the fungal infection. Having your nails evaluated by a podiatrist is important to select the proper treatment for you.
Topical medications have been shown to be effective in fighting nails that are partially or more superficially infected. There are prescription nail polishes and creams that can help slow the growth of the fungus and improve the health of the nail. Topical medications are advantageous because there are little to no side effects or risks.
Oral medications are very effective in treating nail fungus and the most common one used is Lamisil. Lamisil has been shown to be very effective in treating more severe types of nail fungus, where the entire nail is involved and the infection has been present for a long period of time. Lamisil does carry risks of liver damage, however, and patients must be closely monitored.
Laser therapy is a relatively recent treatment for nail fungus but has been proven effective. The laser kills the fungus using light waves that destabilizes its ability to live and reproduce. The laser therapy is painless, is fast to administer, and has similar effectiveness to other treatments. This modern technology has helped many patients without the health risks associated with other nail fungus treatments.
With all treatments for nail fungus, patience is a virtue. It takes 9 months to a year for the nail to see full resolution of the fungus, because it takes that long for the nail to grow from the root all the way out to the end. It is similar to dying your hair and waiting for it to grow out. The nail is damaged by the fungus and that damaged nail must grow off and new healthy nail replace it.
The doctors at Advanced Foot and Ankle Center have significant experience in all forms of treatment for toenail fungus. Call for an appointment today!
Eric Silvers, DPM
Dustin Lloyd, DPM
Christopher WItt, DPM