Nail fungus, also called onychomycosis, is a fungal infection that begins underneath the nail. The infection first appears as a small white or yellow spot, which spreads into the nail if left unchecked. The nail begins to discolor, thicken and crumble. Some patients also experience discomfort in the toe or finger with the condition.
What Causes Nail Fungus?
Most nail fungus infections are caused by a category of fungi known as dermatophytes. These organisms live in moist environments and may infect the skin on exposure. . Most people will only develop a nail fungus if their nails are regularly exposed to a warm, moist environment. It is more common in toenails than fingernails, but can occur in either.
What are the Treatment Options for Nail Fungus?
Treatment for nail fungus will depend on the severity of the infection. Common treatment options for nail fungus include:
- Topical medication
- Oral medications
- Laser treatments
Topical antifungal medications, although very safe, do not typically work well on their own to treat nail fungus, and are commonly prescribed in combination with oral medications or laser treatment for best results. Oral medications include active ingredients like terbinafine, griseofulvin and itraconazole, and are taken for at least six to twelve weeks. There is a some risk of effects on liver while taking any of these medications, so regular monitoring is required for patients while they are on their prescriptions.
Laser treatments are a relatively new method of effectively treating nail fungus today. High intensity laser beams are used to kill the fungus underneath the nail without damaging surrounding skin or tissue. Early clinical studies on laser treatments have shown these procedures to be effective at addressing both the infection and the cosmetic concerns related to nail fungus, without invasive surgery or downtime.
In the most severe cases of nail fungus, surgery may be recommended to remove the diseased nail. In most cases, a new nail will grow back in its place. Some patients are prescribed an oral medication during the healing process to treat the nail bed and ensure a healthy nail grows in place.