The Fungus Among Us: Treat & Protect Your Feet

Legs walking

Do you remember those funny ads depicting a fungus trying to break through a toenail and create infection? Are fungal toenails that common? Fungal nails or “onychomycosis” affects approximately 36 million Americans yearly. That means every time you walk barefoot around a pool or in a gym locker room, or perhaps getting a pedicure, there is a chance that someone near you could be infected, and that little fungal spore could be searching for a new place to call home, your toenails!

What are the best treatment options out there for this condition? Here are some of the methods currently being used to tackle this condition.

Topical Medications
Natural products with tea tree oil have been found to contain some antifungal properties and have been used with treatment of superficial nail infections. Many prescriptive topical and nail lacquers may be used for very mild to moderate cases. Topical medications, since their efficacy rates are relatively low, are better when used as a part of combination therapy with oral medications. Researchers are currently working on new drugs with better efficacy rates.

Oral Medications
This is the most effective treatment for infection. Medication is usually taken orally for three months under direct supervision by your physician. Current literature show recent developments of newer medications have even higher improved cure rates of onychomycosis over the past few years. However, there have been some side effects associated with oral medications, namely with effects on the liver. A thorough patient history along with blood tests are usually performed prior and during treatment.

Lasers
This is the latest in treatment options. The FDA has approved non-ablative lasers for temporary clearing of mild to moderate fungal nail infections. These lasers deactivate the fungus from further growth without destroying skin. Many patients prefer this treatment since side effects are less than those associated with oral medications. Treatment through lasers is promising but more studies and research are needed in understanding how well lasers work for long-term success.

Removal of the Nail
This can be performed by your physician in the office. A nail removal or “avulsion” usually will heal quickly in a healthy patient. Topical antifungals needs to be applied during the entire time a new nail is regenerating (this can be up to nine months). This is ideal for healthy patients that have an early infection in just one nail.

Preventative treatment works best: If you already suspect infection, get treatment early. These infections can be stubborn and may become more resistant. There is no single treatment that is 100% effective. Wearing appropriate shoe protection (e.g. flip flops in the gym locker room) and avoiding direct contact to moist environments is key. Remember to regularly change socks, shoes and keep those feet dry! Fungi, bacteria and viruses are found throughout the environment. Be aware of your surroundings; precaution and protection are your best attack keeping those nasty fungal infections away!