If you observe any abnormal nail changes it is important to visit your doctor for prompt assessment. In addition to being cosmetically unappealing, OM can also lead to more serious complications, including the possible loss of your nail, bacterial infections, or cellulitis. Speak with your healthcare provider to determine what the best treatment plan is for you.
Topical nail-bed fungus treatments are a safe option that almost anyone can use. They work best when the infection is treated in its earliest stages. However, these medications do not heal the nail itself, only the fungus growing on the nail bed and surrounding area. Only oral medications, which come with many contraindications and may not be safe for everyone, can treat the nail itself.
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.
The most common symptom of a fungal nail infection is the nail becoming thickened and discoloured: white, black, yellow or green. As the infection progresses the nail can become brittle, with pieces breaking off or coming away from the toe or finger completely. If left untreated, the skin underneath and around the nail can become inflamed and painful. There may also be white or yellow patches on the nailbed or scaly skin next to the nail, and a foul smell. There is usually no pain or other bodily symptoms, unless the disease is severe. People with onychomycosis may experience significant psychosocial problems due to the appearance of the nail, particularly when fingers – which are always visible – rather than toenails are affected.
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.
Nail fungus is usually harmless. But many people find discolored or thickened nails unpleasant to look at and want to get rid of the fungus as soon as possible. Fungal nail infections can also spread, and may infect other people. Regardless of the treatment you choose, it will take a while until the nail looks normal again. It’s especially important to be patient where toenails are concerned. It can take a year for a healthy big toenail to grow back. Nail fungus can sometimes be very persistent despite treatment. It can also come back after successful treatment.
Over-the-counter antifungal treatments. Antifungal creams and ointments treat toenail infections while helping to keep new fungus out so new nails can grow. Some treatments must be applied every day, others are applied once a week. It’s a good idea to apply topical treatments to both the foot and nail simultaneously to prevent foot fungus from spreading to the toes. If you trim your toenails well (see above) before applying an antifungal, the medicine can reach deeper into the nailbed.
Fungal infection occurs when the organism invades through an opening in the nail, meaning fungi will usually attack nails that are already damaged. After infection occurs, the growth of the fungi leads to mild inflammation, which causes the nail to thicken and the nail plate to detach from the nail bed. The space underneath the nail can then serve as a reservoir for bacteria and moulds, which can cause the nail to become discoloured.
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.
Patience is key, as treatment duration varies from 2-3 months for oral treatments to up to 12 months for topical treatment. Because the nails take a long time to grow (6 months for fingernails and 12-18 months for toenails), it will take some time for the infection to resolve and the nail appearance to improve, regardless of the type of treatment used. Sometimes treatment may not be successful and your doctor may prescribe a different medication.
The ease with which the fungus spreads to other areas of the body (on one's fingers) poses another complication. When the fungus is spread to other parts of the body, it can easily be spread back to the feet after the feet have been treated. And because the condition is called something else in each place it takes hold (e.g., tinea corporis (ringworm) or tinea cruris (jock itch), persons infected may not be aware it is the same disease.
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.
Food intolerances — Some yeast infections are due to food allergies. Try to avoid foods that cause negative reactions of any kind and pay attention to symptoms you experience when eating things like dairy, eggs, certain nuts, wheat-containing foods and grains. If you think you have a food allergy or sensitivity, try an elimination diet to figure out what foods are causing intolerance and work on removing those foods.
Healing time depends on the type of treatment used. Prevention of a new infection is important. Orthopaedic foot and ankle specialists recommend good foot hygiene with frequent changing of stockings and rotating pairs of shoes to allow them to completely dry between uses. Also, avoid going barefoot in locker rooms and around swimming pools. If you have a pedicure, make sure the nail salon uses sterilized instruments.
Use soap and water to wash your feet, and dry well, including between toes. Trim your toenails -- straight across -- to keep them shorter than the end of your toe. Make sure the tools you use are clean, too. Wash clippers and files with soap and water, then wipe with rubbing alcohol. You might be tempted to cover up discolored nails with polish, but don't. Your nail bed can't "breathe," which keeps fungus from going away.