Podiatrist treating patient's fungal toenails

Compared to some other common foot and ankle injuries, fungal toenails might not rise to the top of top of the list of “medically serious” problems. But that’s pretty insignificant comfort if you’re suffering from this infection!

Fungal toenails can, in fact, be very unsightly and deeply embarrassing for many people. Instead of a cute toenail that you can paint and feel comfortable displaying in open-toed shoes, you have a toenail that has become raggedly, discolored, and thick.

Most people, not surprisingly, just want it gone. Fortunately, we can help.

What Are the Symptoms of Fungal Toenails?

For most cases of fungal toenails, the symptoms are mostly cosmetic. Even so, the aesthetic damage can be significant! As the condition progresses, the entire toenail can become discolored (usually yellowish or brownish), thickened, crumbly, and even severely warped and ridged.

Over time, however, symptoms can progress beyond appearances alone. A sufficiently thick toenail may become painful, especially when wearing shoes.

It can also spread to other toes, to other parts of your body (where the same fungus causes conditions like athlete’s foot and ringworm), or even to other people. For these reasons, we do recommend you see a specialist for evaluation and treatment relatively early.

What Causes Fungal Toenails?

Fungal nails are caused by a group of microscopic fungi known as dermatophytes. These fungi subsist on keratin, a protein that is abundant in skin, nails, and hair. Very commonly, fungal toenails develop in people who already have a problem with athlete’s foot. The fungus is able to get under the nail through a small gap or minor nail or skin injury. The fungi can also be spread through indirect contact with infected surfaces. Barefoot walking in damp spaces, such as swimming pools and gyms, can increase your risk.

Will Fungal Nails Go Away on Their Own?

Unfortunately, this is highly unlikely. The nail and nail bed provide an effectively limitless supply of keratin for the fungi. Furthermore, the nail itself provides an effective barrier against home treatments such as topical medications and soaks. In other words, not only will it not go away on its own, but home remedies such as topical antifungals or foot soaks are unlikely to be effective.

How Are Fungal Nails Treated?

Oral antifungal medications are the most trusted and effective treatment option in most cases. Unlike topicals, they work from the inside out and won’t be blocked by the nail itself. A typical treatment course lasts for 6 to 12 weeks.

For a minority of people, oral antifungal drugs can cause side effects such as rashes and liver problems. We will want to make sure you can take the medication safely before you begin treatment. We may also recommend occasional blood tests to verify that you are tolerating the medication well.

Oral antifungals have a fairly high success rate in eliminating the infection, although can be less effective in older adults or those who have circulatory issues. Alternative treatments, including topical medications and nail removal, are also available for those who cannot tolerate the oral antifungal medications.

Please note that cosmetic improvement is, unfortunately, slower than the medical treatment itself. Although the fungi may be killed, the damaged nail still must grow off and be replaced by clear and healthy nail.

Will My Fungal Toenails Return?

Fungal toenails can indeed return after they’ve been treated, so it’s important to take very good care of your feet and develop good hygiene habits. This includes:

  • Washing feet every day
  • Changing socks and shoes when they get damp
  • Allowing shoes to fully dry out before wearing again
  • Using antifungal powders or sprays on feet and in shoes
  • Always wearing sandals or shower shoes in public facilities—never barefoot
  • Treating other fungal infections (such as athlete’s foot) immediately

We know that treating fungal toenails can be slow and frustrating, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. If you’d like to be rid of your fungal nails for good, please call Dr. Cory Pilling and Dr. Jason DeVries at Canyon Foot + Ankle today.