Because fungal spores can remain viable for months in these environments, frequent exposure can increase the risk of infection (and re-infection). Fungal spores can be picked up in many ways – such as wearing shoes that harbour the organism, by walking barefoot in areas where the fungus is prevalent (especially public showers and locker rooms), by wearing wet shoes or socks for long periods, through previous injury to the toe or toenail that opens a path for easy entry of the fungus, or by wearing improperly-fitting shoes.
For some people, a fungal infection of the nails can be difficult to cure and the first round of medication might not work. The nail infection can’t be considered cured until a new nail that’s free from infection has grown in. Although this indicates that the nail is no longer infected, it’s possible for the fungal infection to return. In severe cases, there may be permanent damage to your nail, and it may have to be removed.
Oral medications include terbinafine (76% effective), itraconazole (60% effective) and fluconazole (48% effective). They share characteristics that enhance their effectiveness: prompt penetration of the nail and nail bed, and persistence in the nail for months after discontinuation of therapy. Ketoconazole by mouth is not recommended due to side effects. Oral terbinafine is better tolerated than itraconazole. For superficial white onychomycosis, systemic rather than topical antifungal therapy is advised.
“The medications we use to treat this are expensive and they are not benign,” cautioned Dr. Hinkes. “Lamisil is so powerful it stays in your body six months after you stop using it, and that’s one of the reasons why it works so well. So when we use these medicines, we have to be conscious that we may be affecting a person’s liver, because the liver is the organ that helps to detoxify the body and excretes that medicine.”
You might cringe at the thought of having a fungal or yeast infection. The concept might feel icky. The reality, however, is that many types of fungi live on the skin all the time, even though you can't see them. Most of the time, these fungi don't cause any problems, but sometimes a fungus will change and cause an infection. These are some of the more common fungal and yeast infections that people experience.
Fungal nail infections can be difficult to treat. Talk with your doctor if self-care strategies and over-the-counter (nonprescription) products haven't helped. Treatment depends on the severity of your condition and the type of fungus causing it. It can take months to see results. And even if your nail condition improves, repeat infections are common.
Rotate your shoes – Change your shoes often. Even though you may have that favorite pair that you like to wear all the time, it is better for your feet to switch up your shoes from time to time. Even wearing the same pair of shoes two days in a row can elevate your risk for toenail fungus. Place shoes that you are not wearing in an area where they will get plenty of air.
Physical exam alone has been shown to be an unreliable method of diagnosing fungal nails. There are many conditions that can make nails look damaged, so even doctors have a difficult time. In fact, studies have found that only about 50% of cases of abnormal nail appearance were caused by fungus. Therefore, laboratory testing is almost always indicated. Some insurance companies may even ask for a laboratory test confirmation of the diagnosis in order for antifungal medicine to be covered. A nail sample is obtained either by clipping the toenail or by drilling a hole in the nail. That piece of nail is sent to a lab where it can by stained, cultured, or tested by PCR (to identify the genetic material of the organisms) to identify the presence of fungus. Staining and culturing can take up to six weeks to get a result, but PCR to identify the fungal genetic material, if available, can be done in about one day. However, this test is not widely used due to its high cost. If a negative biopsy result is accompanied by high clinical suspicion, such as nails that are ragged, discolored, thickened, and crumbly, it warrants a repeat test due to the prevalence of false-negative results in these tests.
Following effective treatment, recurrence is common (10–50%). Nail fungus can be painful and cause permanent damage to nails. It may lead to other serious infections if the immune system is suppressed due to medication, diabetes or other conditions. The risk is most serious for people with diabetes and with immune systems weakened by leukemia or AIDS, or medication after organ transplant. Diabetics have vascular and nerve impairment, and are at risk of cellulitis, a potentially serious bacterial infection; any relatively minor injury to feet, including a nail fungal infection, can lead to more serious complications. Infection of the bone is another rare complication.
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.
There are many topical antifungal drugs useful in the treatment of athlete's foot including: miconazole nitrate, clotrimazole, tolnaftate (a synthetic thiocarbamate), terbinafine hydrochloride, butenafine hydrochloride and undecylenic acid. The fungal infection may be treated with topical antifungal agents, which can take the form of a spray, powder, cream, or gel. Topical application of an antifungal cream such as terbinafine once daily for one week or butenafine once daily for two weeks is effective in most cases of athlete's foot and is more effective than application of miconazole or clotrimazole. Plantar-type athlete's foot is more resistant to topical treatments due to the presence of thickened hyperkeratotic skin on the sole of the foot. Keratolytic and humectant medications such as urea, salicyclic acid (Whitfield's ointment), and lactic acid are useful adjunct medications and improve penetration of antifungal agents into the thickened skin. Topical glucocorticoids are sometimes prescribed to alleviate inflammation and itching associated with the infection.
If you have diabetes or a weakened immune system, treatment is especially important. After getting a fungal nail infection, people who have diabetes have an increased risk of developing sores that do not heal. Sores that do not heal can lead to a serious health problem. It’s important to see a dermatologist (or other doctor) at the first sign of a nail problem. A dermatologist can tell you whether you have a nail infection or something else.