Toenail fungus, medically called onychomycosis, is a widespread infection of the toenails. The infection occurs when fungi get between the nail and the nail bed, the tissue just underneath the toenail, usually through a crack or cut in your toe.
Toenail fungus is a common problem, especially as you get older. Medical experts suggest that onychomycosis affects 1 in 10 people overall, jumping to 1 in 2 for people over 70.
At Monroe Foot & Ankle Care in Jamesburg, New Jersey, podiatric physician and surgeon Dr. Elliott Perel and his staff understand how unsightly toenail fungus can be, which is why they offer a variety of treatments to get rid of it. Here’s what you need to know.
While more than one kind of fungus can cause a nail infection, dermatophytes (a type of mold) cause the most. These microorganisms feed off the keratin in your nails, the protein that makes them hard.
Many types of toenail fungus are quite contagious. You can spread the infection to someone else through direct contact or by touching an infected surface. Since nail fungi thrive in dark, warm, and moist places, you can easily become infected if you walk barefoot around a swimming pool, public locker room, or shower.
Toenail fungus rarely spreads to other areas of your skin (which also contains keratin), but when the dermatophytes attack the skin first it’s called ringworm; when it’s between the toes it’s called athlete’s foot, and when it’s in the groin area, it’s called jock itch.
There are four broad ways you can get rid of toenail fungus.
Antifungals are prescription medications taken orally every day for several months — or even longer. Some of the most common include terbinafine (Lamisil®), itraconazole (Sporanox®) and fluconazole (Diflucan®). These medications have side effects, so Dr. Perel may monitor you with blood tests every so often. They can also interact with other medications, so they’re not for everyone.
Topical medications are like nail polish, and you apply them to the nail just like polish. They can take a long time to work by themselves; they’re most effective when paired with oral medications.
Dr. Perel directs a laser beam and special lights at the infected toenail to destroy the fungus. Lasers are FDA-approved for “temporary increase of clear nail,” but they’re by no means a cure. In fact, cure rates for laser treatment are lower than both oral and topical medications, so it’s not typically used as a first-line treatment.
If your nail is severely affected and other treatment options fail, Dr. Perel may choose to remove the nail altogether. A new nail will grow in its place, but it may take up to 18 months to grow back fully, as nails grow quite slowly.
If an unsightly fungal toenail infection is putting a dent in your self-confidence, it’s time to come into Monroe Foot & Ankle Care for a consultation with Dr. Perel. Give the office a call at 732-521-6166, or book online with us today.