Although treatment is usually sought for cosmetic reasons, nail fungus can be serious and should be treated. For example, if it is a severe infection, it can cause permanent damage to your nails. The infection can also spread beyond your nails, especially if you are in a high risk group, such as people with diabetes or impaired immune systems. High-risk people can develop cellulitis, a skin tissue infection, if toe fungus isn't treated.[4]
When visiting a doctor, the basic diagnosis procedure applies. This includes checking the patient's medical history and medical record for risk factors,[11] a medical interview during which the doctor asks questions (such as about itching and scratching), and a physical examination.[11] Athlete's foot can usually be diagnosed by visual inspection of the skin and by identifying less obvious symptoms such as itching of the affected area.

Topical treatment (polish or cream) isn’t likely to get rid of a fungal nail infection. Treatment with tablets is considerably more effective and takes less time. But some people can’t take tablets because of the very rare, yet serious risks. How you feel about the pros and cons of the different treatment options is a personal matter. You can also discuss the options with your doctor.

Athlete's foot is divided into four categories or presentations: chronic interdigital athlete's foot, plantar (chronic scaly) athlete's foot (aka "moccasin foot"), acute ulcerative tinea pedis,[11] and vesiculobullous athlete's foot.[2][12][13] "Interdigital" means between the toes. "Plantar" here refers to the sole of the foot. The ulcerative condition includes macerated lesions with scaly borders.[11] Maceration is the softening and breaking down of skin due to extensive exposure to moisture. A vesiculobullous disease is a type of mucocutaneous disease characterized by vesicles and bullae (blisters). Both vesicles and bullae are fluid-filled lesions, and they are distinguished by size (vesicles being less than 5–10 mm and bulla being larger than 5–10 mm, depending upon what definition is used).

Research suggests that fungi are sensitive to heat, typically 40–60 °C (104–140 °F). The basis of laser treatment is to try to heat the nail bed to these temperatures in order to disrupt fungal growth.[37] As of 2013 research into laser treatment seems promising.[2] There is also ongoing development in photodynamic therapy, which uses laser or LED light to activate photosensitisers that eradicate fungi.[38]
Oral/combination therapy. Some studies have shown that taking antifungal pills and applying antifungals to your nails can be more effective than using either treatment alone. Oral medications can typically treat toenail fungus in three months. In stubborn cases, topical and oral medications may be combined to provide the best possible treatment. Oral medications must be prescribed by your physician or health care practitioner.
Fungal nail infections and the resultant nail destruction can promote other sources of infection like cellulitis (a bacterial skin infection) and other forms of tinea, and aggravate foot problems resulting from other illnesses such as diabetes. Diagnosis is usually confirmed by looking at nail clippings through a microscope or other tests before starting treatment.
Infected nails are usually thicker than normal and could be warped or oddly shaped. They can break easily. Nails with fungus might look yellow. Sometimes a white dot shows up on the nail and then gets bigger. When fungus builds up under your nail, it can loosen and even separate the nail from the bed. The fungus can also spread to the skin around your nail.
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