Guide Health: Toe nail fungus is not a pretty thing

Eliminating toe nail fungus takes patience and persistence, but it rarely clears up on its own

Toe nail fungal infections are difficult to treat and for some people can result in discomfort, pain and even disfigurement. But that doesn’t mean you have no options.

More scientifically called onychomycosis, the condition affects about seven per cent of Canadians at any one time, although the number may be higher because people may not seek treatment.

With onychomycosis, your toe nail thickens and turns yellowish-white in colour. There can be crumbling and the debris that you find in your socks is yellow in colour. The infection is most often noticed on the nail of the big toe, and the fungi that causes it is a type of dermatophyte.

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The toe nail bed is most commonly involved. However, there are two types of fungal infections that affect other parts of the nail; they are white rather than the more common yellow. One type, which is more common in children, affects the top of the nail surface where white patches are seen. The other, which is more common in individuals who have immune system diseases, is characterized by a white discolouration of the nail bed that migrates out as the nail grows.

Each of these variations accounts for five to six per cent of cases, but they are treated in the same manner.

Toe nail fungal infections are persistent and rarely resolve on their own.

Creams such as terbinafine are an option, but can be inconvenient to use. Ciclopirox nail lacquer is another option and is somewhat easier to use, but its cure rate is low.

Ideally, with any topical treatment, debridement and trimming of the nail is usually recommended.

Terbinafine tablets are more convenient, but can interact with some other medications. Before you take these tablets, you will want to check for drug interactions.

It can take up to a year and a half for your toe nails to return to their normal appearance, and even then they may not look as they did before.

Keep in mind you are not treating toe nail fungus because of its appearance, but rather to stop the infection from spreading to other toe nails and surrounding tissues.

Re-infection is common because in many cases, the course of antifungals medications is not long enough or not finished.

Toe nail fungus occurs more commonly in older people and in people with other nail and foot problems like trauma, athlete’s foot and even bacterial foot infections. If your feet sweat profusely or if you have circulation problems, you may be at greater risk for the infection.

People with diabetes or immune system problems are also at increased risk.

As with athlete’s foot, wearing clean socks and shoes that breathe, and protecting your feet in public places like locker rooms and swimming pools, can help prevent contact with the fungus.

Toe nail fungus is not pretty to see. With treatment, it can be eradicated. But remember to be persistent with your treatment.

About the author

Contributor

Marie Berry is a lawyer/pharmacist interested in health and education.

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