What are Fungal Toenails?
The medical term for a fungal nail infection is Onychomycosis. Fungal toenails are caused by a microscopic organism called fungi. Many individuals develop fungal toenails at some point in their life. It is not usually serious, but can be unpleasant and difficult to treat. The infection develops slowly and causes the nail to become discoloured, thickened and distorted.
Symptoms of a Fungal Toenail
One or more of these symptoms may be present
• White or yellow spots or streaks under the tip of the nail
• Brittle, crumbling nail edges
• Thickening Nails
• Rough Nails
• Nail discolouration (white, yellow or brown)
• Separation of the nail from the nail bed
• Pain and tenderness of the nail or toe (due to the nail lifting)
Causes of Fungal Toenails
- Poor Hygiene – Feet that are constantly in a moist environment are at a higher risk of developing fungal nails.
- Footwear – Shoes that cause feet to get hot and sweaty have a higher risk of developing fungal nails, as the fungus likes a warm, moist environment.
- Barefoot – Walking barefoot in communal places can lead to an increased risk of spreading of fungal infections.
- Nail Damage – Trauma to the nail allows a pathway through which the fungi can penetrate the nail.
- Health Conditions – Certain health conditions lead to an increased risk of contracting fungal infections. These include: Diabetes, Psoriasis, Peripheral Arterial Disease and Weakened Immune System.
Treatment of Fungal Toenails
It is important to consider the time and symptoms present. Treatment may vary according to the stage of progression.
- Topical Antifungal Treatments – Topical treatments usually need to be applied. Treatments should continue until a healthy nail regrows, this can take from 2 – 12 months. It is difficult for the topical treatments to reach deeper layers of the nail. There are a number of different topical antifungal treatments available. It is best to discuss with the podiatrist which one would be of most benefit to you.
- Laser Treatment – At Leonard Gentin and Associates Podiatrists, we use the Cutera Genisis Plus Laser, which is the premium podiatric laser for toes and feet and TGA approved for treating fungal nail infections. The laser light passes through the nail and surrounding tissue heating those areas up. The laser light is absorbed and heats the pigment of the fungus. This heat kills or damages the fungal organism. More than one treatment is usually required. Your podiatrist will discuss with you. It takes from 6 weeks up until 12+ months for the nail to grow out completely.
- Oral Antifungal Medications – The choice of oral antifungal will depend on which fungus is causing the infection and/or other current medical conditions. Treatments may last from 6 weeks up until 12+ months. Oral medications are usually associated with side effects such as liver damage, skin rashes, headaches and GI upset. It is important to discuss the use of oral antifungal medications with your doctor.
Prevention of Fungal Toenails
The key to prevention is reducing a moist dark environment as well as limiting nail trauma which all encourage the growth of fungus.
Some simple tips include;
- Keeping feet cool and dry
- Drying feet and toes thoroughly after washing them or getting them wet.
- Correctly fitting shoes to reduce trauma to the nails.
- Cleaning nail clippers after use