Although fungal toenails rarely cause physical pain, few can deny that these unsightly nail problems can be deeply frustrating and embarrassing. If you have them, you may feel reluctant to wear sandals, show your feet to others, or feel truly relaxed at the pool on a hot summer day.
If this describes you, take heart! There are a few things you should know:
- This condition is far more common than you probably realize. In fact, research suggests as many as 1 in 10 Americans have at least one fungal toenail.
- Although best results do take some time to achieve, fungal toenails are very treatable. You don’t have to live with them for the rest of your life!
Read on to learn more about this condition, and how the team at Community Foot Clinic of McPherson can help.
What Is Toenail Fungus? What Are the Symptoms?
As the name suggests, toenail fungus (known medically as onychomycosis) is caused by fungi that get underneath the toenail. Specifically, those fungi are known as dermatophytes, and they feed off of keratin, a fibrous protein that is abundant in nails, skin, and hair.
Here are some of the most common symptoms:
- In the early stages, you may notice a small white or yellow discoloration at the tip of the toenail.
- As the infection progresses, discoloration (usually whitish to yellow-brown) becomes increasingly severe across the entire toenail.
- Nails may become thickened, ragged, brittle, or crumbly.
- Nail shape may become distorted and warped.
- Rarely, there may be pain and/or foul odor.
How Did I Get Toenail Fungus?
In order to contract the infection, two things need to happen. First, you need to be exposed to the fungi, and second, the fungi need a way underneath your nail.
Dermatophytes tend to thrive in environments that are warm and humid. You may be exposed by walking barefoot in public facilities (such as locker rooms or pool decks), or simply by not changing your shoes and socks often enough when they get damp. If you tend to perspire heavily or work in a hot and wet environment, you are at increased risk.
Additionally, dermatophyte fungi also cause somewhat more common infections, including athlete’s foot, ringworm, and jock itch. If you already have any of these conditions, the fungi may eventually spread to your nails.
The fungi don’t need a huge opening to get underneath your nails. If nails are brittle, dry, or cracked, dermatophytes can easily get through. Those who have diabetes, weakened circulation, or weakened immune systems are also at increased risk.
How Do I Get Rid of Fungal Toenails?
Unfortunately, toenail fungus can be somewhat stubborn to get rid of. The fungi are well protected under the nail, and due to the slow growth rate of toenails, it may take many months for optimal results.
While this can be discouraging for patients, we assure you that, with patience, diligence, and discipline, toenail fungus can be treated successfully!
First, we’ll conduct a proper examination to confirm a toenail fungus diagnosis. (There are other conditions that can cause similar symptoms, so we want to be sure.) From there, we will recommend an appropriate treatment course based on your lifestyle and medical history.
- Oral medications. Oral antifungals tend to be the overall most effective treatment method, and require 8-12 weeks of taking a daily pill. Due to the possibility of side effects, it isn’t recommended for those with liver problems.
- Topical antifungals. Topicals are usually prescribed in conjunction with oral medications, as they can help stunt fungal growth. Given the difficulty of penetrating the nail plate, they are less effective when used on their own.
- Antifungal lacquers. This is medicated nail polish that you apply to the nail as well as the surrounding skin. It creates a clear, nonporous fungicidal coating that is much more effective at treating the infection than more traditional topical antifungal creams. However, it is not recommended for those with compromised immune systems.
- Nail removal. In severe cases, the nail can be removed and the infection underneath treated directly.
Early detection and treatment is the most important factor in determining whether more conservative forms of treatment will provide good results. But that doesn’t mean even severe cases cannot be treated successfully!
What Happens Next?
During and after treatment, it’s important to practice good foot hygiene and preventative care, to avoid a re-infection of the toenail. This includes things like:
- Washing your feet thoroughly every day.
- Changing socks and shoes when they get damp.
- Rotating pairs of shoes so that they get more than a full day to dry out before you wear them again.
- Using antifungal sprays or powders on your feet and in your shoes.
- Keeping nails neatly trimmed—not too long, not too short. Cut straight across and smooth edges with a nail file.
- Not going barefoot in public spaces. Always have a pair of sandals or shower shoes at the ready for locker rooms and pools.
- Avoiding nail polish and artificial nails, or at the least not wearing them for more than one week at a time.
Get Your Clear Nails Back
It’s true that best results take time. But if you’re sick of the frustration and embarrassment of fungal toenails, we can absolutely help you get those clear nails back!
To schedule an appointment with the Community Foot Clinic of McPherson, give us a call today at (620) 241-3313. Alternatively, you can contact us online and a member of our staff will call you during regular business hours to schedule.