If you are embarrassed about how your toenails look, you are not alone. We treat patients with fungal toenail infections every week. Many of our patients started out thinking that they just had ugly toenails when, in fact, they had a fungal infection.
Are your toenails thick and hard to trim? Are they yellowish and brittle? Do your feet smell worse than other people's? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might also have a fungal infection in your toenails. The good news is—we can help!
What Is Toenail Fungus?
Most people have heard of athlete's foot and know that it is a fungal infection that starts with itching between the toes and spreads across the bottom of the foot. If you've had athlete's foot, you know it takes special medication to kill the fungus and cure the burning itch. Toenail fungus is a similar type of infection.
When tiny mold spores known as dermatophytes lodge in the flesh between the toe and the nail, they can cause a fungus called tinea unguium, which requires the keratin found in nails to grow. Dermatophytes are also responsible for other fungal infections, such as athlete's foot, jock itch, and ringworm.
Who Gets Toenail Fungus?
Anyone can get toenail fungus, but it is most common in older adults and people who are often in sweaty shoes. If you have athlete's foot, the fungus could spread to your toenails if you have an injured toenail or cracked skin under the nail. Additional risk factors include:
- Peripheral artery disease
- A weakened immune system
Toenail fungus affects about 10 percent of the general population, but nearly 50 percent of people over the age of 70 battle toenail fungus at some point. It's important to understand that toenail fungus will not go away on its own. In fact, left untreated, it can spread to other toes and to the skin between your toes.
How Do I Know if I Have It?
Unlike athlete's foot, which can be extremely itchy and irritating, toenail fungus does not itch or cause pain—unless a toenail becomes so brittle that it cracks. Toenail fungus doesn't look the same in every person or in every nail. You might notice:
- A change in your nail color to white, yellow, or brown
- A chalky or cloudy look to your nails
- Thick and misshapen toenails
- Separation between the toenail and the nail bed
- Cracked and broken toenails
You might also notice a foul odor coming from infected toenails. Because toenail fungus can look different in different people, it is best to get a diagnosis from a podiatrist so that you can start treatment to kill the fungus.
What Treatments Are Available for Toenail Fungus?
Toenail fungus is difficult to treat because it is hidden in the nail bed and well protected by the nail. It can take several months to get rid of it, and even then, it could come back. The sooner the condition is diagnosed and treated, the easier it will be to kill the fungus. Treatment options include:
- Topical medication. Applying an antifungal cream to the infected nail will gradually kill off the fungus and restore your nails to health. However, it is a very slow process and requires diligence on your part.
- Oral antifungal medication. A prescription antifungal medication can be taken every day for several months to kill the fungus. These medications do have side effects, so they are not for everyone. A combination of topical and oral antifungals is often the most effective treatment.
- Laser treatment. High-tech lasers can be directed at the nail fungus to clear up the discoloration. Lasers do not usually cure the fungus, however, so their use is generally cosmetic.
Over-the-counter remedies are rarely effective on fungal toenails. Save time and money by contacting a podiatrist right away.
Proactive Fungal Toenail Treatment in the East Bay
If you have unsightly toenails, don't hesitate to reach out to us with questions. We serve the entire East Bay area, including Pleasanton, Danville, San Ramon, Dublin, Tracy, and Stockton. Call us at (925) 532-0099 or fill out our contact form, and we will be in touch to discuss your options for fast, effective treatment.