Toenail fungus often begins as an infection in the skin called tinea pedis (also known as athlete’s foot). The fungus often starts under the nail fold at the end of the nail. Over time, it grows underneath the nail and causes changes to its appearance, such as a yellow or brownish discoloration. It can also cause thickening and deformity of the toenail.
Many podiatrists now consider this an effective treatment, but because it’s new, there’s not enough concrete data to compare with other treatments. Dr. Hinkes raises another concern: “A clinical cure and a mycological cure are two different things. With the clinical cure, you look at the nail and it looks fine. It’s pink and shiny and smooth and it looks great. But if you sample the nail, you might find that there’s mold or fungus there, so it does not have what we call a mycological cure—mycology is the study of fungi.
The definition of over-the-counter (OTC) products means that they are available by ordinary retail purchase, not requiring a prescription or a license. Although there are few OTC medications aimed to treat fungal nails, many of these medications have not been tested and therefore are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of onychomycosis. Most OTC agents are aimed at treating fungal infection of the skin rather than the nail. Some medications list undecylenic acid and/or propylene glycol as main ingredients. These ingredients inhibit fungal growth; however, they may not adequately penetrate the nail to be effective in treating fungal nails.
The vesiculobullous type of athlete's foot is less common and is usually caused by T. mentagrophytes and is characterized by a sudden outbreak of itchy blisters and vesicles on an erythematous base, usually appearing on the sole of the foot. This subtype of athlete's foot is often complicated by secondary bacterial infection by Streptococcus pyogenes or Staphylococcus aureus.
You can also try itraconazole (Sporanox), which is usually prescribed with a dose of 200 mg a day for 12 weeks. Side effects can include nausea, rash, or liver enzyme abnormalities. It should not be used if you have liver issues. Sporanox also has interactions with over 170 different drugs such as Vicodin and Prograf. Check with your doctor to ensure any medication you are taking does not interfere with it.
There are many possible causes of foot rashes. Additional causes include irritant or contact dermatitis, allergic rashes from shoes or other creams, pompholyx (dyshidrotic eczema), psoriasis, yeast infections, and bacterial infections (gram negative toe web infection and erythrasma). Since these conditions are often indistinguishable on superficial visual examination, it is important for your doctor to do his best to identify the precise cause. Since fungal infections are potentially curable, it is important not to miss this diagnosis.
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.
Making a few simple lifestyle changes can help prevent a fungal infection of the nails. Taking good care of your nails by keeping them well trimmed and clean is a good way to prevent infections. You should also avoid injuring the skin around your nails. If you’re going to have damp or wet hands for an extended amount of time, you may want to wear rubber gloves.
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.
Your physician may perform a simple test called a potassium hydroxide (KOH) preparation for microscopic fungal examination in the office or laboratory. This test can be used to confirm the presence of a fungal infection. This test is performed by using a microscope to examine small flakes of skin from the rash. Many dermatologists perform this test in their office with results available within minutes. Rarely, a small piece of skin may be removed and sent for biopsy or fungal culture to help confirm the diagnosis.
Starts at the base of the nail and raises the nail up: This is called "proximal subungual onychomycosis." This is the least common type of fungal nail. It is similar to the distal type, but it starts at the cuticle (base of the nail) and slowly spreads toward the nail tip. This type almost always occurs in people with a damaged immune system. It is rare to see debris under the tip of the nail with this condition, unlike distal subungual onychomycosis. The most common cause is T. rubrum and non-dermatophyte molds.
If the fungal nail infection is severe, tablets can be used in combination with nail polish or cream. For example, if the nail is very thick, urea cream can be used (in addition to taking tablets) to gradually remove or partially file off the affected nail. Combining these treatments may also be an option if there are large collections of fungi beneath the nail. Another option for severe fungal nail infections is professional medical footcare. If the nail is filed off, it’s important to ensure good hygiene and disinfect the area, because the removed nail tissue could contain infectious fungal spores.
Athlete's foot, known medically as tinea pedis, is a common skin infection of the feet caused by fungus. Signs and symptoms often include itching, scaling, cracking and redness. In rare cases the skin may blister. Athlete's foot fungus may infect any part of the foot, but most often grows between the toes. The next most common area is the bottom of the foot. The same fungus may also affect the nails or the hands. It is a member of the group of diseases known as tinea.
Fungi that are already present in or on your body can cause nail infections. If you have come in contact with someone else who has a fungal infection, it may have spread to you. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), fungal infections affect toenails more commonly than fingernails because your toes are usually confined to your shoes, where they’re in a warm, moist environment.
Trim infected nails. Using large toenail clippers and/or nail nippers, keep your toenails well-trimmed by cutting them straight across to the toe line. Thin thickened nails by gently scraping away the crumbly debris under the nail with a file. This will get rid of some fungus and help reduce pain by alleviating pressure on the nail bed and toes. Soak your toes first to soften the nails or trim after a shower.
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Toenail fungus, also called onychomycosis, is a common fungal infection of your toenail. The most noticeable symptom is a white, brown, or yellow discoloration of one or more of your toenails. It may spread and cause the nails to thicken or crack. Sandal season or not, toenail fungus typically isn’t what you want to see when you look at your feet. Luckily there are many treatments you can try.