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.
Readily available over-the-counter treatments work well for most nail-bed infections, especially early cases. An advanced toenail fungus infection may require a podiatrist’s intervention. To counteract a serious infection, medical professionals may utilize prescription topical medications, oral medications, and even laser therapy. Some cases best respond to combination therapy.
Ultra-high heels force the feet into a position that puts stress on the ball of the foot. At this critical joint, the long metatarsal bones meet the pea-shaped sesamoid bones, and the toe bones (phalanges). Too much pressure can inflame these bones or the nerves that surround them. Chronic stress to the foot bones can even lead to hairline fractures.
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Red or black nails due to a hematoma, or blood under the nail, usually occur from trauma (like whacking yourself on the thumb with a hammer). The discolored area will grow out with the nail and be trimmed off as you trim your nails. If you have a black spot under your nail that was not caused by trauma, you may want to see a dermatologist or a podiatrist if it involves a toenail to make sure it is not melanoma (a type of skin cancer associated with pigmented cells). A simple biopsy can rule out malignancy (cancer).
If you notice any redness, increased swelling, bleeding,or if your infection is not clearing up, see your health care professional. If a bacterial infection is also occurring, an antibiotic pill may be necessary. If you have fungal nail involvement, are diabetic, or have a compromised immune system, you should also see your physician for treatment.
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.
Ringworm, also called tinea corporis, is not a worm, but a fungal infection of the skin. It can appear anywhere on the body and it looks like a circular, red, flat sore. It is often accompanied by scaly skin. The outer part of the sore can be raised while the skin in the middle appears normal. Ringworm can be unsightly, but it is usually not a serious condition.
Ingrown toenails are caused by the growth of the toenail into the surrounding nail fold. Symptoms and signs include toe pain, swelling, redness, and yellow drainage. Treatment at home involves soaking the affected foot in diluted white vinegar or Epsom salts, elevating the foot, and trimming the nails straight across. Surgery is also an option for severe cases. Prevent ingrown toenails by wearing shoes with a wider toe box and avoiding repeated injury to the toenails. Avoid curving or cutting the nails short at the edges.
Tinea pedis, also known as athlete's foot or foot fungus, can cause recurrence of fungal nails. Therefore, it is important to manage this condition. One can apply over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal medicines such as clotrimazole (Lotrimin) or terbinafine (Lamisil) cream as directed to affected skin. Keeping footwear and socks clean can be helpful. You can also use portable UV light sanitizers to disinfect shoes.
Efinaconazole (Jublia) is a medication that was approved in 2014. It is a topical (applied to the skin) antifungal used for the local treatment of toenail fungus due to two most common fungal species affecting nails (Trichophyton rubrum and Trichophyton mentagrophytes). Once-daily application is required for 48 weeks. The most common side effects of Jublia are ingrown toenails and application site dermatitis and pain.
For more severe cases, oral antifungal medications might be required. These include fluconazole (an antifungal agent also commonly used to treat thrush), terbinafine (a broad-spectrum antifungal) and griseofulvin (usually used for skin infections). The latter is a very old drug and carries the risk of causing damage to the liver. Terbinafine is most effective and therefore is the preferred oral treatment. A 12-week course cures 70-80% of cases by causing the fungi’s cells to leak and die. It can, however, cause gastrointestinal side effects and depression.
You may first notice a fungal toenail infection as a small white or yellow spot on the tip of your toenail, especially the big toe. As the infection progresses, the toenail can become yellow, brittle—even crumbly—and thick and uneven-looking. In the worst fungal infections, the toenail separates from the nail bed. This is called onycholysis. As fungal infections worsen, the nail beds can be tender to the touch and quite painful. Sometimes women try to pretend the pain is “normal” and ignore it altogether.
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.
Vicks VapoRub is a topical ointment. Although designed for cough suppression, its active ingredients, camphor and eucalyptus oil, may help treat toenail fungus. A 2011 study found Vicks VapoRub had a “positive clinical effect” in the treatment of toenail fungus. To use, apply a small amount of Vicks VapoRub to the affected area at least once a day.