Toenail fungus, onychomycosis, is a fungal infection that affects many people in Saratoga Springs. It usually gets between the toenails and the tissue underneath through a cut or crack in the toes. Sometimes, the fungus infects the fingernails. Nail infection can occur at any age, but it’s common in adults as their nails break and crack with age.
Toenail Fungus (Onychomycosis): Causes & Symptoms
Various fungal organisms can cause fungal nail infections. However, most toenail fungal infections are attributed to microscopic fungi called dermatophytes. Invisible to the naked eye, dermatophytes feed off keratin which builds up on your fingernails and toenails. But that’s not the only factor. Reduced blood circulation to your feet and a weak immune system may also contribute to the problem. Fungal infections can start from the athlete’s foot and spread from one nail to another.
Symptoms of Toenail Fungus
You may have nail fungus if one or more of your nails are:
- Thickened, warped, or oddly shaped toenails
- Chalk or cloudy spots
- Yellow-brownish or whitish discoloration
- Brittle, crumbly, or ragged
- Nails separate from the nail bed
- Crack or break in multiple spots
- Foul-smelling toes
Is Toenail Fungus Common?
Toenail fungus is a common condition. It tends to affect people as they get older. Health experts estimate that onychomycosis affects 1 in 10 people. The number jumps to 1 in 2 or 50% of people over 70 years old.
Stages of Toenail Fungus
Fungal toenail infection usually progresses through stages, evolving from a mild inconvenience to severe cases that can lead to toe or foot amputation. White mild infections can be treated with over-the-counter medications, always make sure the fungus isn’t re-growing as it may require aggressive care.
In the early stages, toenail infection appears as white lines or spots on our nail’s surface. The nails may thicken and become yellow and brittle. Over time, the infected toenail develops a powdery, softened condition. A toenail that goes untreated for months or years will continue to spread and may be necessary to get rid of the nail. The fungal infection can spread to the bloodstream and may become life-threatening.
Is it Safe to Cut off Toenail Fungus?
In some cases, it’s recommended that you trim or remove the infected toenail. When trimming your toes, use proper equipment. A pair of toenail clippers are suitable for trimming back thicker nails. They look like pliers and are available in most drug stores. Avoid small fingernail clippers as they increase the risk of fungus transfer if your slip up, and they are less likely to work well.
What Happens To Untreated Toenail Fungus?
Leaving a nail fungus infection unattended for long can lead to several problems down the road. First, the infected nail can easily lose shape and separate from the nail bed over time. You may also experience unpleasant side effects such as itching and pain. If the pain is extreme, walking or wearing shoes can become difficult.
You need to take steps to treat the toenail fungus if you have a weak immune system. Don’t ignore the fungus if you’re diabetic. A mild infection can mutate into something serious like cellulitis, a severe bacterial skin infection.
Another problem is that untreated fungus can spread to neighboring toenails and even skin and cause an athlete’s foot. The worst possible outcome of a festering nail fungus is having the nail surgically removed. Make sure you seek treatment as possible. If you don’t use topical medications such as antifungal creams for treating toenail fungus, the infection will continue to spread and its symptoms will worsen with time.
Toenail Fungus Treatment
Toenail fungus is a tricky condition to treat. Treatment usually depends on the severity of the infection and the type of fungus behind it. You may need to undergo treatment for several months to eliminate the fungus. Even if your nail condition improves, the fungus can still come back. Talk to your dermatologist or podiatrist to explore your treatment options. Your foot doctor or skin specialist may recommend the following toenail fungus treatment options:
Oral antifungal medication: Your doctor may prescribe antifungal drugs such terbinafine, itraconazole and fluconazole to eliminat the fungi. Take this medication every day for six to twelve weeks as prescribed. These drugs can clear your toenail infection more quickly than topical drugs. With time, antifungal drugs help your new and infection-free nails to grow, slowly replacing the infected spots. However, these medications can affect the liver. Talk to your doctor first before you use oral antifungal drugs.
Medicated nail polish: Buy and apply medicated nail polish such as ciclopirox (Penlac) on the affected toenail and surrounding skin once a day. After a week, wipe the piled-on layers clean with antiseptic or alcohol then start a fresh application. The medication treats the fungi over time, resulting in healthy nails. Topical treatment is effective when paired with oral medications.
Medicated nail cream: Use antifungal cream that’s prescribed by your doctor. Rub the medicated cream into the infected nails after soaking. Toenail creams with antifungal properties work better on thin nails, as they allow the medication to penetrate the hard nail surface to the underlying fungus. To thin your nails, apply a lotion that contains urea. Your podiatrist can also thin the affected nail surface (debride) using a file or other tool.
Laser treatments: Your doctor can also direct a laser beam and special lights at the infected toenail to treat the fungal growth. Laser treatment is an FDA-approved method that helps increase clear nails and is not a cure. Since the cure rates for laser treatments are usually lower than prescription medications, they’re not used as first-line treatments by doctors.
Nail removal: In some instances, your doctor may recommend the temporary removal of the infected nail so that they can apply the topical medication to the infection under your nail.
Home treatments: Mild infections can be treated at home using various home remedies such as tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil, ozonized sunflower oil, and baking soda.
Toe Nail Fungus Prevention
Do the following to curb nail fungus and re-infections that can lead to several nail fungal infections.
- Wash your hands and feet regularly and after touching an infected nail.
- Wear sweat-absorbing socks and change your socks throughout the day
- Wear shoes made of breathable materials
- Discard old shoes or treat them with antifungal powder
- Trim your nails straight across, then smooth the edges with a file before filing down thickened spots
- Disinfect toenail clippers after every use.
- Avoid nail polish and artificial nails
- Visit nail salons that sterilize manicure tools
Contact the Foot Experts in Saratoga Springs
If toenail fungus is bothering you in Saratoga Springs, seek medical help as soon as possible. Early medical treatment can help reverse the spread of the fungus and allow your toes to grow new infection-free nails. Rogers Foot & Ankle Institute has qualified foot doctors that can assess your condition and tailor a treatment for your situation. Whether you’re noticing toenail fungus for the first time or have been battling with a fungal infection, we’ve got your back. We’ll treat toenail fungus on your foot until it completely disappears then advise you on how to prevent a future recurrence. To book an appointment with our podiatrists, call 801-756-4200 today.