Nail fungus can be an embarrassing, and sometimes painful condition to bear. Scientifically known as onychomycosis, nail fungus occurs when fungi infect one or more of your nails. Symptoms of nail fungus range from the crumbling and changing in color of the nail, to foul odor and separation of the nail from the nail bed. Once the infection has damaged and misshapen the nail, the area can become quite painful.
Among the 3 main classes of fungi that turn into nail fungus — dermatophytes, yeasts, and nondermatophyte molds — dermatophytes are the most common. Two major pathogens are responsible for approximately 90% of all onychomycosis cases, and are related to those that cause ringworm, athlete’s foot, and other common fungal infections: trichophyton rubrum accounts for 70%, and trichophyton mentagrophytes for 20% of all cases.
Nails at a Glance
Nails are essentially hardened skin cells that are made mostly of the protein keratin. Nails are made by living cells in the fingers and toes and growth of nails depends on a number of factors: Faster growth in summer than winter, men’s nails grow more quickly than women’s and the nails on a person’s dominant hand grow faster. Fingernails grow faster than toenails. Disease, hormone imbalance, and aging can slow nail growth.
Fungal Infections (Onychomycosis)
The most common cause of a nail infection is fungus. Fungus appears more frequently on the toenails than on the fingernails. The two most common types of fungi are dermatophytes and yeast (Candida). Few fungal nail infections may respond to topical antifungal lotions and gels, but most infections of the nail plate require oral medications taken for several months, which require lab monitoring for toxicity and possible side effects. Oral medications such as Lamisil™ are effective clearing a toenail infection approximately 60% of the time.
Swelling, redness, and pain in the skin folds of the nail are often caused by bacteria with the most common cause being injury to the nail or skin. Exposure to water and chemicals is a common cause of bacterial infections.
Dark spots or streaks appearing on any nail and not the result of an injury must be examined by a dermatologist. The diagnosis could be melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer.
Who Gets Nail Fungus and Why?
Nail fungus infection can be caused by an injury to the nail or surrounding area that allows the organisms a way to enter the skin. Other risk factors include:
- Family history
- Poor health
- Participation in fitness activities
- Occlusive footwear
How Can I Get Rid Of Nail Fungus?
Luckily treatment exists for this invasive, stubborn condition. You may have already tried one of the three general approaches—topical antifungals, oral therapy, and surgical care — in your attempt to treat the problem. Topical antifungals like Tinactin and Lamisil cream are readily available over the counter. Unfortunately, these creams are often unable to cure onychomycosis because they do not adequately penetrate the nail plate when used alone.
Oral therapy may be recommended if your symptoms do not respond to antifungal creams. Using Sporanox, or an oral form of Lamisil may cure your current fungus outbreak, but recurrence is still common.
Alternative Cutting Edge Nail Treatments
For those looking for an alternative to medications, laser therapy that is specifically designed to treat nail fungus can help.
The laser beam travels thru the nail to the level of the nail fungus and kills the fungus. This painless procedure takes 30 – 60 minutes with no side effects. Results are not immediate and the nail will grow out usually in 9 – 18 months. In most cases two – three treatments may be required which can occur 6-8 weeks after the first treatment. Usually all nails are treated to help prevent new nail infections.
Insurance does not cover this procedure.
Learn more about Nail Fungus Treatment
Please give us a call at Dr. Michalak’s dermatology office in Issaquah & Seattle if you would like to set up a consultation to learn more about treatment options for nail fungus. We’re located just 20 minutes from downtown Seattle. Please dial 425-391-2500 to schedule your appointment.