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The Basics of Toenail Fungus Treatment

BY: Shannon Grilli | May 23, 2017

Flip-flop season will soon be upon us once again. But if you're one of the estimated three million people suffering from toenail fungus, chances are you're less than eager to let your toes wiggle around in public. Luckily, there are now several different toenail fungus treatments available that can help clear things up, so you can kick off your shoes without shame. Below, we cover the basics of toenail fungus treatment, including what causes it and what you can do to erase it for good.

What Causes Toenail Fungus?

Lots of things can cause toenail fungus to grow, and its development is not necessarily an indication that you're taking bad care of your feet! Like all fungi, toenail fungus (also known as onychomycosis) thrives in a warm, moist environment. It's a common fungal infection that starts off as a white or yellow spot under the toenail, but which can spread deeper into the nail and cause the entire nail to thicken and turn yellow.

Treatments for Toenail Fungus

There are a variety of different ways to treat toenail fungus, including oral medications, topical medications, and laser treatments. Unfortunately, none of them are one-size-fits-all. A podiatrist can help evaluate which toenail fungus treatment will work best for you based on how bad your infection is, but in the meantime, here's an overview of some of the more common treatments.

Oral Antifungals

Pros:

  • Works by helping the new nail grow free of infection
  • Short-term treatment (typically about 6–12 weeks of pills)
  • More cost effective than laser treatments
  • May be the most effective cure for severe infections

Cons:

  • Typically takes up to six months (or until the new nail grows in fully) to achieve complete results
  • May be less effective in people over age 65
  • Risk of side effects ranging from rashes to liver disease
  • May not be safe for those with heart conditions, liver conditions, or those on certain medications

Medicated Creams

Pros:

  • Safe for people with other medical issues or those on other medications
  • May work as well as some oral antifungals

Cons:

  • Nails may need to be thinned first in order for the cream to penetrate
  • Higher infection-recurrence rate as compared to other methods
  • May take up to a year to see full results

Laser Treatment for Toenail Fungus

Pros:

  • Selectively targets and destroys nail fungus without harming the nail or surrounding skin
  • Low risk; typically produces no side effects
  • Painless sessions typically only take about 10 minutes per toe
  • Early stage studies have suggested it may be effective 80–90% of the time

Cons:

  • Can be costly (check Groupon for deals on laser toenail treatments)
  • Requires multiple sessions
  • Experts say more studies are needed to demonstrate its effectiveness