Many people suddenly notice that one or maybe more toenails look odd. Until they see a physician, they might have no idea that their nails harbor a fungus. Understanding what an infection is and the toenail fungus treatment options available helps take the stress out of resolving this annoying problem.
What Exactly is a Nail Fungus Infection?
Nail fungus is common. Fungal infections occur more often in toenails than in fingernails, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Toenail fungus is also known as onychomycosis and tinea unguium. When the fungus occurs between the toes and the skin of the feet, it is called tinea pedis, or athlete’s foot, the Mayo Clinic indicates.
Either type of infection usually links to fungi, microscopic organisms that have no need for sunlight to thrive. Fungi live in environments that are both moist and warm, like pools and showers. They invade toenails more often than fingernails because of the dark environment in shoes. The fact that there is less blood flow to toes than to fingers means the immune system has a harder time spotting and stopping an infection in toenails. However, some toenail infections are the result of molds or yeasts.
Symptoms of a fungus include nails that:
- Appear thickened
- Are brittle or ragged or crumble easily
- Have a distorted shape
- Look dull
- Have a dark color
- Separate from their nail bed
- Are painful
- Have a foul odor
Toenail Fungus Treatment From a Physician
Many patients unsure of whether they have a nail fungus opt to try over-the-counter treatments. When self-help measures fail to cause improvement, they turn to doctors for other options. However, for conditions that are mild and not bothersome, it might not be necessary to seek any treatment. Treatments for toenail fungus are considered cosmetic services, similar to the use of a dermal filler, BOTOX, Latisse, and aesthetic surgery.
After an examination, a physician might prescribe a combination of medications and other measures:
- Oral medications are antifungal drugs patients take to help grow an infection-free nail. Two examples are itraconazole (Sporanox) and terbinafine (Lamisil). Eliminating an infection can take four or more months.
- Medicated nail polish is sometimes helpful if used for up to a year.
- Medicated nail cream is an antifungal rubbed into infected nails.
- Other procedures including debriding the nail with a tool, surgically removing an infected nail, and using light-based and laser therapies. The introduction of lasers has made it easier, faster, and painless to treat toenail fungus infections. Patients see results as each new nail appears and looks normal.
To help prevent new fungal infections, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends:
- Keeping toenails clean and dry
- Clipping nails to a short length
- Avoiding walking with bare feet in public areas like showers
- Picking nail salons carefully
- Avoiding sharing nail clippers