Diagnosis is made based on clinical exam and can be confirmed by viewing scrapings of the nail under a microscope, or growing the fungus in a culture medium. This is not an easy condition to cure, so rather than trying home treatment with over-the-counter medications, it's best to see your doctor. As with many conditions, nail fungus infections are easier to treat if you catch them early.
Unfortunately, athlete’s foot is highly contagious and the fungus can easily spread to the toes and toenails, causing infections. There are more than three million cases of toenail fungus in the US every year. Not all toenail infections are from athlete’s foot or even from a fungus; some are caused by yeast or mold. These are much harder to cure than fungal infections.
If the fungal infection has spread to the toenails, the nails must also be treated to avoid reinfection of the feet. Often, the nails are initially ignored only to find the athlete's foot keeps recurring. It is important to treat all of the visible fungus at the same time. Effective nail fungus treatment may be more intensive and require prolonged courses (three to four months) of oral antifungal medications.
Sometimes people with a fungal nail infection are offered laser treatment. This involves shining infrared or ultraviolet (UV) light on the nail in order to kill the fungi. Laser treatments haven’t been proven to work in good quality studies. Because statutory health insurers in Germany don’t cover the costs of this treatment, people have to pay for it themselves.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.