If your toenails have thickened, turned yellow, or started crumbling, you may have a fungal infection. Fungal nail infections, medically termed “onychomycosis,” are very common, affecting up to 14% of the general population.
At Florida Foot & Ankle, podiatrist Dr. Mark A. Matey and his team diagnose and treat toenail fungus for their patients in the Jacksonville, Florida, area. If the infection is stubborn, your best bet for treatment is laser therapy. Here’s what that entails.
More about toenail fungus
Fungi can infect fingernails as well as toenails, but toenails are much more common. The organisms live in moist and warm environments, such as swimming pools, locker rooms, and even sweaty socks.
The fungus isn’t necessarily dangerous, but once it’s gained a toehold, it can be extremely difficult to get rid of.
Aside from cosmetic concerns, onychomycosis can lead to toe and foot pain, as well as serving as a gateway for serious secondary bacterial infections and traumatic ulcerations (slow-healing sores).
In some populations, especially diabetics, the ulcers may even lead to the amputation of all or part of the lower extremity. As a result, a simple, cost-effective and safe treatment is highly desirable.
The infection starts as a white or yellowish-brown spot under the tip of your nail. As the fungus digs deeper, the nail may turn yellow, thicken, crumble at the edge, separate from the nail bed, and take on a foul odor. The infection may start in a single nail, but it can easily spread to the other nails.
In addition, fungal infection of the skin on your feet (athlete's foot) can spread to the nail and vice versa, making treatment that much more important.
If the problem is mild and doesn’t bother you, you may not need treatment. But if the nail becomes thickened and painful, or if you’re in an at-risk population, you should visit us at Florida Foot & Ankle for treatment.
Unfortunately, even if the treatment is successful, the infection may recur. You can prevent that by not walking barefoot in public places like locker rooms and changing your socks when they become damp.
How does laser treatment help my fungal nails?
Dr. Matey may start treatment with both topical and oral antifungal medications. For topical forms, you paint the medication onto the nail, just like you would put on nail polish. This is a very slow-working treatment; expect a year or more until the infection clears up.
Oral antifungals work faster, but they come with a number of unpleasant side effects.
Laser therapy is an affordable and extremely effective tool for killing the fungus. It remains unclear exactly how laser treatment works, but some researchers believe that the focused light penetrates the nail, and the fungus absorbs it, which damages the cells or kills them.
You don’t feel anything, though, as the energy passes harmlessly through your nail.
The process takes about 30 minutes, after which you can resume your normal activities. Keep in mind that:
- Most people need at least two sessions, 5-6 weeks apart
- Results may take about two months
- We treat all nails in the affected area
- You may need to use creams in conjunction with the procedure
- It can take 12-18 months to regrow healthy nail tissue completely
A 2019 meta-analysis found evidence that suggested laser therapy is effective and safe for a person with nail fungus. And while the overall success rate was only about 63%, laser therapy may be your best option due to the risk of side effects associated with oral medications.
If you’re bothered by the yellowing of your toenails, or if you want to fight back against the fungal infection causing it, see us at Florida Foot & Ankle. Call 904-268-3686, or book online today. We have two Jacksonville, Florida, locations.