Your Guide to Fungal Nail Treatment and Prevention

by David Guhl, DPM

Toenail fungus is one of those conditions that can creep up so slowly that you don’t fully realize you have a problem until your discolored, thickened, and brittle nails are broadcasting it to the world.

Most people who have fungal toenails want no more than to get rid of them – and the sooner you take steps to do that, the better! In fact, the best time to start acting against fungal toenails is much sooner than most people even realize.

The Gradual Progression of Fungal Nails

Your toenails do not suddenly get messed up by a fungal infection overnight. When your nails are considerably yellowed, thick, and crumbling, it means the fungus has been living within your nails for a lengthy amount of time. It could have been building for months or even years by that point!

In its earliest stages, a fungal toenail infection looks nothing like it does when most people determine it’s time to see a podiatrist. It’s much more discrete than that.

So, what should you be looking for? Check for white spots or lines along the surface of the nail.

Of course, it’s very easy to pass off such symptoms as coming from the natural bumps and scratches of daily life – and many times those little streaks are nothing more than that. However, if those blemishes remain for a long time and start to grow or change in shape, it is well worth coming to see us about them.

We can have a sample of your nail tested to verify whether fungus has begun to build its residence there. If so, starting treatment early provides a big advantage at clearing up the infection quickly and keeping your nails looking healthy.

Treatment certainly isn’t impossible once your toenails have reached the later, much more visible stages of an infection. But toenail fungus can be very stubborn and it can take a much longer period of time for treatment to provide the results you are looking for.

Treating Fungal Nails

There are several options for treating toenail fungus. Which options become part of a patient’s treatment plan will largely depend on the type of fungus, its severity, and other factors surrounding the patient’s needs and health.

Treatment options may include:

  • Topical Medications. The anti-fungal medications are relatively easy to use, but they must make direct contact with the fungus to work most effectively. We may sometimes file a nail down to provide a better chance for ointments to reach the fungus, but some infections can run too deep for this form of treatment to be highly effective.
  • Oral Medications. Oral anti-fungals get around the “direct contact” problem above by delivering their treatment via the bloodstream. This can make them more effective than topical medications in many cases, but they can also come with side effects that do not make them a reasonable choice for patients with certain conditions.
  • Laser Treatment. Laser treatment can circumvent both downsides of the above treatments. Not only can light energy from a laser reach fungus deep within a nail (without causing damage to surrounding tissue), but also carries none of the side effects that may be associated with oral medications.

More than one treatment might be recommended for fungal nails, based on the situation and what may be able to provide the fastest and most thorough results.

How Can You Prevent Fungal Nails?

The only thing better for fungal nails than early treatment is never picking up an infection in the first place.

Although it can be nigh impossible to reduce your risk of toenail fungus to zero, there are plenty of simple steps you can take to keep your chances favorably low. It all centers around knowing what toenail fungus needs to thrive.

In addition to a healthy supply of keratin (found naturally in your skin and nails), toenail fungus also needs moisture and warmth. Limiting these factors, as well as potential exposure to fungus in the first place, can greatly help your chances of avoiding it.

Keep these tips in mind:

  • Keep your feet covered in higher-risk areas. Places such as locker rooms, public showers, and around public pools have all the elements fungus looks for plus a lot of bare feet to aid in transmission. Using water shoes, shower shoes, or even some sandals can reduce your potential exposure.
  • Keep your shoes dry. Moisture within your shoes can also make them a more inviting environment for fungus to stick around. After spending a day in shoes, give them a day off to air dry if possible. If you need to speed drying up, an electric boot dryer may do the trick as well.
  • Keep your socks dry, too. Do your feet tend to sweat a lot and leave your socks wet halfway through the day? Bring a clean pair to switch into if you can. Not only does that keep moisture away from your feet, but it just feels more comfortable, too.
  • Don’t share foot-related items. Never share shoes, socks, or nail trimmers with anyone. In fact, try not to share clippers between your own toenails and fingernails. If you do happen to have toenail fungus, using toenail clippers on your fingernails can increase your risk of transmission.

Get Rid of Toenail Fungus for Good

If you are looking to take out a fungal toenail infection, there is no better time to start professional treatment than now. Not only does it take time to fully eradicate the fungus, but your nails need time to grow out and replace what has been long damaged as well.

Schedule an appointment at Waukesha Foot Specialists by calling our office or by filling out our online contact form.