05 Jan Fungal Toenail Infections and How To Manage The Condition
Fungal toenail infections (onychomycosis) are common conditions that are known to be difficult to manage. The infection can vary from very mild needing no treatment other than self-care steps and home remedies, to being very severe in nature.
Signs and symptoms
Patients with a fungal toenail infection may experience the following clinical presentations of their toenails:
- Multiple nails may be affected.
- A thickening of the affected area.
- Off-white, yellow, or yellow-brown discoloration.
- Distortion in the shape of the nail.
- A foul odor emanating from the area of pathology.
- Dark discoloration caused by the build-up of debris under the nail.
- Pain in the toe may occur if the nail starts to lift up from the nail bed due to the infection causing the mentioned abnormalities.
Causes and risk factors
The most common causes of fungal infections of the toenails include:
Risk factors for developing onychomycosis include:
- Advancing age – as one gets older, cracks start to develop in the nails of the toes and this allows the spores of fungi to enter.
- Reduced blood flow in the lower legs – conditions such as diabetes and chronic venous insufficiency may result in slower growing nails and this allows the fungal spores more of an opportunity to grow in the toenails.
- Recurrent episodes of athlete’s foot – this is a fungal infection affecting the skin of the feet which may spread to the nails of the toes.
- Having a condition such as psoriasis – this skin condition may affect and damage the nails increasing the chances of a fungal infection developing.
- Having a weakened immune system – fungal infections are more likely to develop in individuals who don’t have a strong enough immune system to keep fungi under control.
Fungal toenail infections are notorious for being difficult to manage. The treatment of this condition involves using medications and topically applied medicated nail creams or polishes with the following disadvantages:
- They have to be used for weeks and even months at a time.
- The oral medications need to be used for such a long time that they can cause problems to the liver.
- The medications don’t seem to be very effective in patients over 65 years of age.
- If these treatments don’t work, then surgical removal of the toenail may need to be performed and the medication will anyway be used to treat the infection affecting the nail bed.
An alternative to these therapies includes laser toenail fungus removal:
- An FDA-approved device is used where a laser beam is produced that is passed over the infected nail several times.
- The light produced by the laser is absorbed by the pigment in the fungal spores which causes them to heat up and die.
- Clinical studies have shown that this therapy is a safer and more effective form of treatment in managing fungal toenail infections than any other treatment.1
Suggestions to help prevent fungal toenail infections
- Wash the hands and feet properly and regularly and dry the toes and areas between them thoroughly. This prevents an ideal environment for fungi to grow in.
- When cutting nails, trim them straight across and avoid cutting into the sides as this can lead to ingrown nails which can penetrate the skin and result in infections. Secondary fungal infections may develop thereafter.
- Socks should be changed regularly and shoes should be left outside to dry or be treated with antifungal sprays or powders.
- Avoid using artificial nails and nail polish on the toenails.