Compared to most of the other conditions we treat at Rainier Foot & Ankle Associates, fungal toenail infections might not rise to the top of the list in terms of physical pain or discomfort.
However, that doesn’t mean treating them isn’t a high priority! While they usually aren’t physically painful, fungal toenails can be extremely distressing, especially if they are causing embarrassment and keeping you from enjoying summer activities or wearing sandals.
Fungal toenails don’t go away on their own. However, if you are serious about getting rid of them for good, there are several effective treatment options available—and we can help you find the right one for your situation.
What Are Fungal Toenails?
Fungal nails are, as the name suggests, caused by a fungal infection that gets under the nail. Specifically, it’s an infection of dermatophyte fungi, the same group of organisms that also cause many fungal skin conditions—most notably, athlete’s foot.
Dermatophytes subsist on a diet of keratin, a structural protein found abundantly in both skin and nails.
Once the fungi get under the nail, they can cause a number of nasty symptoms. Often, the first sign is a yellowish or whitish spot under the toenail, near the tip. But unless you act quickly, it probably won’t stay that way. In time you may develop:
- Significant yellowish, brownish, or whitish discoloration
- Nails that are substantially thicker and more crumbly than normal
- Ragged, distorted ridges and other deformations in the nail
- Slight foul odor
Where Did These Fungal Nails Come From?
In order to contract fungal toenails, you need two things: exposure to the fungus, and a way for it to get under the nail.
We’ll start with the second requirement. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much of an opening for the fungus to get in. There may be tiny cracks, cuts, or separations too small for you to notice, but more than large enough for microorganisms to get in.
As for exposure, there are several possibilities. Some of the most common include the following:
- You already have athlete’s foot. The fungus can easily spread from the skin to the nails, and even back again.
- You wear sweaty shoes and socks. This is especially common if you work in wet environments, or you just sweat a lot.
- You walked barefoot in communal areas. Higher-risk environments include places like pool decks, locker rooms, gyms, and shower facilities.
A few factors can increase your risk of developing fungal toenails. Particularly notable factors include weakened circulation or immune systems (often as a complication of diabetes), as well as age (older people are more likely to develop fungal toenails).
Fungal Toenail Treatment Options
Regardless of the treatment method chosen, it’s always best to start treatment as early as possible. The worse the infection is, the longer it will take to get rid of, and the lower the success rate. Furthermore, damaged portions of the nail will take time to grow out even once the fungi have been killed.
Treatment options include:
- Topical antifungals. This is the simplest option, but also takes the longest and requires a lot of discipline. You must thin your toenails at least weekly, and apply ointment to the nails and surrounding skin every day. It may take a year to see results.
- Oral antifungals. This has been the “gold standard” for treatment of fungal nails in recent decades. You’ll take a daily pill, usually for 12 weeks. Most people tolerate this treatment well, although side effects (including liver problems) are possible in some people. We’ll help you determine whether this treatment is safe for you.
- Laser therapy. The newest and most advanced option, laser therapy is a painless, drug-free, convenient method with no known side effects. Light emitted by the laser can pass through the nail and kill the fungi without harming any of your healthy tissues. A typical treatment course requires 3-4 sessions, each about 15 minutes long (depending on the number of toenails that need treatment), spaced several weeks apart.
It’s important to note that these treatment options are not mutually exclusive, and can be used in combination with one another.
Regardless of which you choose, remember that results will not be immediate. It takes time to kill the fungus, and more time for new, healthy nail to grow in. It may take several months to get the results you want to see. However, with time and discipline, most fungal toenail infections can be fully eradicated with these methods.
When you make an appointment with us (and we’ve confirmed the fungal toenails diagnosis), we’ll help you determine which treatment method(s) make the most sense for your current needs and circumstances.
Don’t wait any longer to take your toenails back! The earlier you start treatment, the sooner you can bring out your open-toed shoes with confidence! Call our office at (360) 761-1285, or request an appointment using our online form.