Nailing Toe Fungus

When toenails, or even fingernails, become thick, yellow or white, and crumbly, it's likely you have a nail fungus. Such a condition is not only unsightly, but, if left untreated, can spread to other nails or surrounding skin and can make it uncomfortable or even painful to wear shoes, walk, or stand for a long time.


With spring and summer weather on the way, many people with toenail fungus will want to shed their shoes in favor of sandals and flip-flops – but may be reluctant to do so because of their fungus.

“Now is the time to start with treatment so your nails are ready for summer,” said Ken Gerenraich, a podiatrist and CEO of Woodward Laboratories. “Many people think nail fungus is simply cosmetic, so they ignore going to the doctor to have it checked. [But] nails are a window to a person’s health – the first place a disease often shows up is on the nails. If nail fungus goes undiagnosed and untreated, there can be significant physical and mental health issues – especially for people with diabetes, poor circulation or other systemic illnesses.”

Nail fungi are highly communicable, which is why Gerenraich calls nail fungus “the world’s oldest social disease.” The organisms thrive in warm, dark environments such as closed-toe shoes or under nails covered with polish, acrylic or gel. The condition is known by doctors as onychomycosis, and is best diagnosed by a podiatrist or dermatologist.

Fungal nail infections don’t go away, and might worsen. But getting rid of them is a difficult and lengthy process (from a few weeks to a year). There are over-the-counter and prescription antifungal creams, lotions, nail polishes and pills. The stronger ones must be prescribed by a doctor. A person’s best chance at success is with the pills – but they’re expensive and have serious side effects. Anyone with liver or heart problems can’t take them, and a doctor has to test a person regularly while he uses them.

Preventing fungal nail infections can be accomplished in the following ways:

-- Thoroughly wash and dry the feet before bed. Then apply an antifungal, such as Lamisil or Penlac.

-- Make sure footwear is comfortable and made of a material that allows the foot to “breathe.” Shoes should dry for 24 hours before wearing them again.

-- Cotton socks should be worn, and changed frequently, if necessary.

-- Nail files, nail clippers, socks, towels, and other personal items should not be shared.

-- Flip-flops should be worn in wet public areas (locker rooms or showers).


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